Like in past years, the three-day event will feature 20 balloonists from all over the Four Corners. They will sail over Cortez starting at 7 a.m. each day, weather permitting, and hold a “balloon glow” on Saturday night. The glow and the launches are all free and open to the public.
Balloonmeister Cookie See, who has organized the event for about 15 years, said she expects at least two new pilots this year. The event is limited to 20 balloons to avoid overwhelming the Cortez skies, so pilots have to enter a waiting list and go through background checks before they can participate.
Cortez is a popular ballooning spot, See said, because the weather tends to be mild compared with other areas in the Southwest, and landowners tend to be cooperative when balloons have to land on their property.
“It’s small-town flying at its best,” she said. “It’s always been a very relaxing, wonderful event.”
Each launch will start with a pilot briefing at 6:30 a.m. in Parque de Vida. As always, the rally’s own meteorologist, Brian Hill, will be on hand to deliver the weather forecast and help See determine whether it’s safe for pilots to fly. She said there’s usually at least one day every year when the balloons are unable to launch because of rain or other inclement weather.
“It’d be nice to have one year when it’s clear all three days,” she said.
Whether that ends up happening this year, she said all Cortez residents are welcome to attend the launch as well as the Saturday “balloon glow,” when the balloons will stay on the ground, but inflate just after 8 p.m. to light up an evening in the park. Representatives from the Special Olympics will sell coffee, breakfast and raffle tickets at each launch to help raise money for their organization.
This year’s event has more than 25 sponsors, each of whom get to ride in a balloon in exchange for their donation. See said most of the sponsors are Cortez businesses and residents, but some will be coming from out of state for a chance to ride a balloon in Colorado.
The city of Cortez, which also sponsors the event every year, will host a raffle Aug. 2 at Blondie’s Trophy Room to benefit the Special Olympics. One of the prizes will be a balloon ride for two.
Cortez residents who aren’t able to ride the balloons can still get involved. See said balloonists are always looking for more ground crew to help set up, chase and pack up the balloons. Anyone who wants to volunteer for that job should come early to the launch with a pair of good shoes and gloves, See said.
She added that families are invited to bring their kids to each launch, and that most pilots are happy to show off their balloons to anyone with an interest.
“That’s what ballooning is all about: sharing,” she said.