File photo by Marcy Stamper

Get your camera ready for this weekend’s Winthrop Balloon Roundup.

Balloon Festival will fill skies with colorful display this weekend

By Ann McCreary

Brilliant hot air balloons will soar over the Methow Valley this weekend, Friday through Sunday (March 2 – 4), during the annual Winthrop Balloon Festival. Floating against a backdrop of snowcapped mountains, the colorful balloons are a spectacular sight.

About 20 balloons from throughout the Northwest are expected to attend the three-day festival, now in its 21st year. About half of the balloonists have come to previous Winthrop Balloon Festivals, said Kurt Oakley of Morning Glory Balloon Tours, the valley’s only hot air balloon company.

The hot air balloons will begin inflating each morning, weather permitting, at 7 a.m. behind the Winthrop Inn on Highway 20 at the south end of town. The balloons generally stay airborne until about 9 a.m. Spectators are free and are welcome to come to the launches.

Several hot air balloons will light up the night sky as they inflate and glow like enormous lanterns during the Nighttime Balloon Glow on Saturday at 6 p.m. The balloons are inflated in downtown Winthrop and provide an opportunity to see them up close.

Local residents can also see the balloons up close by participating in a chase crew, said Oakley, who helps organize the annual Balloon Festival. “Visiting balloons are always looking for local knowledge. It’s a way to get involved,” he said.

Chase crews follow the balloons in vehicles after they launch and help pack the balloons up after they land. Participants need “some degree of physical fitness,” Oakley said. People interested in volunteering for a chase crew or reserving a balloon ride can contact him at 997-1700.

“We’re always grateful to the community and landowners for letting us drift over and drop in,” Oakley said. The festival is sponsored by the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce and several local businesses.