Above it all | SummitDaily.com

Above it all

BRECKENRIDGE – Most people hike, ride, ski – or at least drive – across the Continental Divide, but an elite few soar above it.

The nation’s best hot air balloon pilots attempt to fire off a new world record by rising above last year’s World Ballooning Federation record of sailing 15 balloons across the Continental Divide.

Like any die-hard athletes, they don’t take the easy way out. They challenge themselves to cross the divide in December, when the weather isn’t as forgiving as in summer months and when it’s cold enough 2 miles above sea level without ascending above frigid mountain peaks.

Last year’s journey across the divide may place the pilots in the Guinness Book of World Records because they followed all the guidelines. The next challenge is to work with Guinness to establish a category for the event, said event director Cheryl Love.

Beginning Wednesday, 22 pilots from Texas, Missouri, California, Kansas, Utah, New York, New Mexico, Kentucky, Florida and Colorado inflate their balloons at 7 a.m., rising in the crisp air like dangling ornaments in the sky. Every morning, from Wednesday to Sunday, Dec. 15, balloonmeisters will decide whether or not the wind conditions warrant an attempt at a world record. If and when conditions are favorable, 17 pilots, chosen on their qualifications and seniority, will soar across the divide.

The balloons launch from the Valley Brook lot, the highest ascent point in the nation certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. Valley Brook Road is between the Breckenridge Recreation Center and Upper Blue Elementary school, between Highway 9 and Airport Road.

In addition to the daily 7 a.m. launches, the public can take in the sights of the multicolored balloons at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, Dec. 14. The luminaries light up Main Street Station, Main Street merchants, the Riverwalk Center, Carter Park and Beaver Run Resort Wednesday and Friday. Saturday evening’s giant glow offers Christmas festivities and free, tethered balloon rides, showcasing 15 balloons, including such specially shaped balloons as a giant soccer ball from Kentucky named Airball and a huge pig from Florida named Hamlet the Pig. Early risers can preview the special shape rodeo at 7 a.m. Friday.

“The balloons are beautiful – all different colors and designs,” Love said. “There will be terrific photo opportunities.”

The 12th annual event takes place in Breckenridge to help launch the holiday season and to promote the tourism. As the event grows, balloons and activities will migrate throughout the county to Dillon, Frisco and Silverthorne, Love said.

Local businesses help sponsor the event, and any proceeds from donations or sales of jackets and merchandise go to the Summit Foundation, Love said.

A limited number of tickets to a dinner banquet with the balloon pilots at Mi Casa are available for $15 by calling (970) 547-0847.

Kimberly Nicoletti may be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 245 or by e-mail at knicoletti@summitdaily.com.

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