Hot air ballooning is a bucket list activity for many of you, and if you are lucky enough to live in or visit Colorado, it’s relatively easy to book a ride in a hot air balloon. In fact, you’ll find commercial hot air balloon outfitters in many beautiful destinations from Steamboat Springs to Pagosa Springs.
Earlier this month, Ryan and I attended Winterfest in Pagosa Springs. For years, a hot air balloon ascension has been part of this event, and I managed to hitch a balloon ride with the Dickey brothers from Albuquerque, New Mexico.
It turns out, I couldn’t have been in better hands. These brothers, Frank and Bill Dickey, have decades of hot air balloon piloting experience. And in fact, the Dickey brothers have come in first and second at the piloting championships held at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the world’s largest hot air balloon festival.
For the participants, a hot air balloon event is a lot of work, a little flying and lot of tailgating. It’s a family and friends affair due to the fact that a balloon needs at least four people to help get it unpacked, up in the air, back down on the ground and packed away.
A Winterfest record number of 19 balloons were scheduled to go up on two mornings in Pagosa Springs. After a pilot briefing at the Visitor Center, which involved a discussion of weather and other logistics, the teams headed out to an open space in downtown Pagosa near the San Juan River.
I felt like a kid as I stood on the frozen ground watching in awe as enormous, colorful balloons materialized around me. Once a balloon begins to fill with propane, it stands upright surprisingly fast. Before I knew it, balloons were hovering all around the park; some rose quickly while others moved more slowly. It’s a bit like watching a big balloon waltz.
I was going up in the 2nd Wind, with Bill and his daughter, Kelly Dickey, who was celebrating her birthday. Kelly’s parents, Bill and Carol, met through ballooning, as did Frank and his wife Nikki Byrd-Dickey.
I climbed, a bit awkwardly, into the basket, and at some point, we were airborne, although I’m not exactly sure when we left the ground. This is because there’s a huge difference between flying and floating.
When a plane lifts off you can feel it in the pit of your stomach, but hot air balloons have a much more gentle ascent because they float as opposed to fly. And I think it’s the floating that makes a hot air balloon ride so magical.
When the pilot isn’t burning the propane to keep the balloon afloat, it’s an incredibly quiet ride, which only adds to the enchantment of hot air ballooning.
This is the point in this article where I’m going to reveal a secret that some of you already know – I’m deathly afraid of heights. I push myself to do things like zip lining and ice climbing because I want to write about these activities. After all, fear is good fodder for stories.
My first experience in a hot air balloon was years ago at the Sweetheart Balloon Rally in Loveland, Colorado. I was downright terrified as we floated high above Larimer County, covering quite a few miles and landing not so softly in neighborhood park near a lake.
As we floated above Pagosa Springs in 2nd Wind, I looked down on the town, out at the mountains and watched the balloons slowly rise and fall around us. My emotions continually shifted from a strange inner peace to sheer terror and then back to peace.
Bill Dickey kept me entertained with ballooning stories; some were reassuring and others were not, but it was his skill at keeping our balloon above the park that was most comforting.
Before this balloon ride, I didn’t realize that it was possible to pilot a hot air balloon up and back to nearly the same spot on the ground where the balloon started.
Flying back and forth over the same area by using winds of opposite directions at different altitudes is called, in balloon terminology, a “box.” Pagosa Springs’ valley location, in addition to the warm air currents created by the town’s hot springs, make it a great place to fly a “box.” Of course, high winds can change everything, but we had perfect weather on our Saturday morning outing.
Once we were back on the snowy ground, less than 50 yards from where we’d taken off, Ryan climbed in for a short ride while I chatted with Frank Dickey.
These two brothers are a wealth of ballooning information and quotes. My favorite, and a favorite of ballooners, is: there are bold pilots and old pilots, but no bold old pilots.
There’s no ambiguity in that quote and it says a lot about the kind of people who balloon. This is not an extreme sport. It’s been around for more than 200 years, and requires an enormous amount of patience to learn the skills required to be hot air balloon pilot.
Meeting the Dickey brothers was a highlight of my HeidiTown travels. I love their zeal for ballooning and I especially appreciate their ballooning know-how.
The next morning, after their pilot briefing in uptown Pagosa Springs, the balloons launched from various areas. We found six setting up in the recreation center parking lot near Wyndham Pagosa. This time they didn’t fly a “box,” but rather drifted with the winds in a westerly direction.
This time I was set to shoot instead of ride, and we had a great time chasing the balloons around in our car and capturing up to eight in the same photograph.
Winterfest occurs annually in Pagosa Springs and is organized by the local Chamber of Commerce. In addition to the balloon ascension, there are sled races, a polar plunge and more. It’s a great time to visit Pagosa Springs, Colorado.
For a comprehensive list of balloon festivals in Colorado and beyond, visit HotAirBalloon.com.
Thank you to Visit Pagosa Springs for hosting us on this trip and thank you to the Dickey brothers for a wonderful hot air ballooning experience.
Make your spring break experience extra special this year with these fantastic Colorado ski resort festivals.
This town knows how to throw a party and spring break is no exception. There are lots of kids’ activities around Breckenridge from ice skating to arcade games at Downtown at Eric’s. See a full list of Breckenridge activities for kids here.
Orbital Flight is a big-air format freestyle event featuring music from Keys-N-Krates. Taking place on March 19, this will be a fantastic event to watch.
For the adults, Spring Breckenridge Beer Festival is April 8, 2017.
And don’t forget that April 1 through 23, 2017, it’s Spring Fever at Breckenridge Ski Resort, an event that includes everything from sports competitions to free concerts.
This fest has fireworks and fire arts, ice sculptures and light shows, bands and singers and so much more. No wonder Loveland Fire & Ice Festival won the Downtown Colorado, Inc. Governor’s Best Festival Award 2016.
The amount of things to do at the Loveland Fire & Ice Festival will make your head spin. It truly has a little something for everyone. Whether you like live music or are looking for entertainment for the kids — toddler or teens — this festival has got you covered.
In addition to the festival’s fireworks show that occurs every evening throughout the three day festival, and ice sculptures that dot the downtown landscape, there is a new event happening at this year’s Loveland Fire & Ice Festival.
It’s the brand new Brewing & Distilling Arts event. In addition to a carved ice bar that will be on display, local craft beers, ciders, wines, sangria and specialty moonshine will be available to taste via a token system.
The Brewing & Distillery Arts events, which happens daily throughout the event, is sure to liven up this already joyous festival. Check here for specific times and token sale information.
At its core, Loveland Fire & Ice is a family festival. Children will enjoy a carousel and carnival games. There are also carriage rides available to both families and sweethearts.
If you love live music, you won’t want to miss this festival.
The musical lineup on the event’s Main Stage is filled with bands that will keep festival attendees dancing in the streets of Loveland to the sounds of classic rock, blues and pop.
There will be three more places to listen to music over the weekend including the Cleveland Performance Stage, Lincoln Performance Stage and Jefferson Performance Stage. The festival’s website has a complete lineup of performers on each stage on their Attractions page.
Visitors can also shop at Loveland Fire & Ice Festival in the event’s Marketplace featuring multiple vendors and exhibitors.
Should all this excitement make you hungry, visit the Food Truck Food Court which will host 13 different vendors selling everything from coffee to waffles.
Loveland Fire & Ice Festival is an extravaganza of fun and an affordable way to entertain the entire family.
Loveland is located just 52 miles north of Denver, 58 miles south of Cheyenne, Wyoming, and is just minutes from Fort Collins. It’s easy to join in the free fun in downtown Loveland this February.
Loveland Fire & Ice Festival
February 10-12, 2017
Loveland, Colorado (downtown)
(with the exception of some ticketed events)
Featured Festival spots on HeidiTown.com are paid advertisements. Interested in having your festival or event considered for a feature? Email TheMayor@HeidiTown.com.
Where can you watch a fire and ice bonfire, run a 5K on a frozen river, celebrate a 167-year-old mountain expedition, take a polar plunge and so much more? At the Rio Frio Ice Fest in Alamosa, Colorado in the beautiful San Luis Valley.
A lot of HeidiTown stories came from our 2016 trip to Rio Frio Ice Fest, and I guarantee if you attend, you’ll have more than a few stories to tell too.
And if you want an even better story, participate in this festival. This will not only provide you with stories, but also bragging rights. After all, how many people can say they’ve ran a 5K on a frozen river? Let alone on the famous Rio Grande River.
The Rio Frio Ice Fest kicks off on Friday, January 27 with a party at the Grover Theater. This year’s festival theme, Tropical Beach, will be alive and well at this fête and throughout the weekend.
Saturday is chockablock with events starting with the Rio Frio on Ice 5K at 9 a.m.
The Rio Frio on Ice was my first 5K (read about my entire experience here). I’ve been known to start a lot of things on ice. My first-ever climbing excursion was also on ice. And while the elevation kicked my butt (Alamosa is at 7,500 feet above sea level) I had a blast, and best of all, I did not come in last in my age category.
You don’t have to run during the entire length of the Rio Frio on Ice – I walked and jogged the course, but if I can finish this race, you can too.
After the 5K, it’s time to celebrate your accomplishment. Attendees can enjoy all sorts of activities in downtown Alamosa such as live ice sculpting, contests such as a kids’ costume event with a Tropical theme, an evening fire and ice bonfire and Grub n’ Pub, a ticketed dining and drinking tour of the town. Ryan and I loved Grub n’ Pub so much that I wrote about it.
Rio Frio Ice Fest doesn’t end on Saturday. Stick around on Sunday for the pancake breakfast, Fremont Parade, Polar Plunge and Fremont Haunt, a coffin race with a twist. The Fremont Expedition (1849) lost a lot of men along the Rio Grande River in the San Luis Valley as they tried to make their way back to New Mexico. The Fremont Haunt competition re-enacts a portion of these tribulations.
Rio Frio Ice Fest represents an opportunity to explore Alamosa and the surrounding area. It also offers attendees the opportunity to experience first-hand what Alamosa has to offer. It’s a truly immersive event, and I think this is what makes it so great. You don’t just see Alamosa, you experience it to the fullest during Rio Frio Ice Fest.
Rio Frio Ice Festival
January 27-29, 2017
Register for the Rio Frio on Ice 5K here.
Featured Festival spots on HeidiTown.com are paid advertisements. Interested in having your festival or event considered for a feature? Email TheMayor@HeidiTown.com.
I love things that make me feel like a little kid again; things like magic, 50 pound bags of popcorn at Costco and fresh snow. There’s something nostalgic about being truly awed, and as we get older that feeling happens less frequently.
However, these three Colorado winter festivals are sure to amaze even the most stoic adult. And if you bring along the kids, they’ll have memories to last a lifetime.
Telluride Fire Festival
January 20-22, 2017
The fire arts seem to have gained popularity over the last five years or so. Fire performers combine the entertainment style of Cirque de Soleil with the power of combustion. It’s sort of like magic because most of us have no idea how they do what they do.
Telluride Fire Festival is in its third year. It takes inspiration from Burning Man, and has been created by an incredible group of dedicated people in Telluride.
I attended the first-year event and I can tell you from personal experience that Telluride Fire Festival will make you feel like a kid again. From 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, spontaneous fire performances occur around town. From art cars to fire-breathing sculptures, it’s truly spectacular. Best of all, these events are free.
Additional ticketed events and workshops take place at various venues around town throughout Telluride Fire Festival. Explore their event calendar to learn more.
International Snow Sculpture Championships
Sculpting Week – January 24 to 28, 2017
Viewing Week – January 28 to February 5, 2017
I had heard about this Breckenridge event for years before I actually attended it in 2015, and I can honestly report that it lived up to the hype. The sheer scope of these snow sculpture is astounding, but then when you see the detail the artists are able to render in snow, it’s downright incredible.
Walking among these giant, snowy effigies gives me that spine-tingly excitement that’s a reminder of childhood.
I recommend attending the International Snow Sculpture Championships towards the end of the sculpting period when the artists are finishing up their sculptures. Watching the sculptors work gives real insight to the difficulty of this competition. I also encourage you to visit once at night too. Darkness adds a certain level of magic to this event.
Crystal Carnival & Ski Joring
March 3-5, 2017
Last, but certainly not least, I can almost guarantee that you’ll verbalize some “oohs” and “ahhs” at Crystal Carnival in Leadville. The ski joring competition at this festival is one of the most hair raising events I’ve ever witnessed in person and I’ve watched ice climbing.
The ski joring competition at Crystal Carnival is the real deal. This isn’t a stunt performance for the crowds. These are real cowboys, cowgirls and skiers who come to Leadville to compete for real cash prizes and bragging rights.
Leadville’s main street, Harrison Avenue, is transformed into a snowy raceway for the ski joring competition that occurs throughout Crystal Carnival weekend.
I recommend checking the schedule and arriving early so you can get a good spot to watch, preferably around the jumps.
Other events take place during Crystal Carnival including a night mountain bike ride in the snow called the Mineral Belt Mayhem, and there’s usually an evening dance at the local Elk’s Club with a live band. However, the highlight at this festival is definitely the ski joring, so don’t miss it.
I used to call this annual post “Top 10 HeidiTown Highlights,” but I’m going to change it up this year because everyone loves a “Best Of” list, right? It’s a hard post for me to compose because every year seems to bring with it many incredible Colorado experiences. This makes it hard to boil an entire year down to ten major highlights, but every year I do it.
This was a big year. I turned forty and we traveled a lot – to every corner of the state and the middle parts too. One of the major highlights was visiting Trinidad, Colorado (1) for ArtoCade, an art car extravaganza. This town blew us away. I love being surprised (in a good way) about a new place and I’m truly excited about the future of this friendly, quirky community.
Another standout experience was staying at a Never Summer (2) yurt near Cameron Pass last winter with our old dog, Xena. We’d never stayed in a yurt, let alone during winter and it was terrific. I loved the smell of the wood burning stove and the feeling of total peace as I snuggled into our yurt’s queen bed. I didn’t even mind having to use the outhouse, something I usually hate with a fierce passion. Continue reading
Considering a holiday getaway this month? Fort Collins is an excellent Colorado Christmas town. Downtown sparkles with thousands of lights and from Old Town Square to Oak Street Plaza Park, the atmosphere is merry.
This past weekend, we did one-night getaway in Fort Collins to experience the city’s holiday offerings. Before exploring the festive scene we checked into the Fernweh Inn & Hostel on Mulberry, just blocks from the excitement of downtown Fort Collins.
Some people, including my husband, Ryan, have an aversion to any place with hostel in the name. The word makes him worried that he’s going to have to share a bathroom or wash dishes to earn his keep.
Fernweh is a modern-day, American hostel which offers private rooms as well as bunk rooms. Our private room, “The Loft,” was a virtual suite because the space occupied the entire upstairs of this historic, Victorian home. There was a full bathroom in the room complete with large, soaking bathtub and multiple beds, making it perfect for a family or friends. Continue reading
Looking for something unique to do with the entire family this holiday season? Look no further than Brewery Lights at the Budweiser plant in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Last week, I was invited to opening night at Brewery Lights which takes place Thursdays through Sundays from 5 to 10 p.m. through December 30, 2016.
Ryan and I arrived early for a meet and greet with the Budweiser Clydesdales. One of the teams was in town for the weekend, and Clydesdale handler, Zane, introduced us to Frankie. At just four-years-old, Frankie stands 19 hands tall and is about 2000 lbs. He nuzzled us, looking for treats, and seemed to personify the breed’s reputation as “gentle giants.” Continue reading
I started writing for a small Colorado newspaper in 2006. A year later, I started HeidiTown, as well as my magazine writing career. Therefore, I have written dozens of articles and posts about Santa Claus coming to town and Christmas parades.
I realize that it’s important to get the word out about these traditional holiday happenings, however, I’ve grown tired of writing about them. With that in mind, I asked my Facebook friends if they knew of any unique Colorado Christmas events happening over the next month and a half and I got a few fun responses that I shall share here.
First up is Elf Crawl in downtown Littleton, Colorado. If you haven’t been to Littleton’s downtown, it’s adorable. I actually used to live in the area and we’d occasionally catch shows at Town Hall Arts Center. Continue reading
We have 44 days of fall left, but the beautiful fall drives are over, so how do we continue to celebrate this shoulder season? I’ve got a few suggestions.
A Late Fall Getaway in Colorado
November isn’t a big getaway month for most people, but the “shoulder season” is a wonderful time to travel in Colorado. There are less cars on the roads, and unless you’re traveling on Thanksgiving, you’ll find some great hotel deals over the next 44 days.
We have a tradition of doing birthday getaways in our house and since my husband’s birthday is in November, we’ve done quite a bit of fall travel in Colorado. Denver is actually one of my top picks for this time of year because the city dresses up beautifully for the holidays and it’s fun to stroll a brightly lit up downtown. Continue reading