Old West Balloon Fest

Published: Aug. 17, 2021 at 12:20 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - We attended a hot air balloon festival that took place near Scottsbluff, Gering and Mitchell. We discovered just how much fun it is to float 1,000 feet in the air.

Pilot Stephen Blucher took Pure Nebraska’s Jon Vanderford up in a hot air balloon, as part of the Old West Balloon Fest. “The festival is the fun flying for the weekend,” Blucher said. “But this gathering also features the national championships which have been going on all week. Those are balloonists from literally all over the country that gather once a year to pick a national champion.”

Blucher says he has a long history with ballooning. “It all started because of my interest in two-way radios,” Blucher said. “I had one in my truck when I had an airplane charter service off of Denver airport. One day I heard someone talking about his new toy. And the dispatcher said, what is your new toy? And he said I got myself a hot air balloon. At that time, it was the second hot air balloon in Colorado. I jumped on the frequency to find out more. I’ve been involved with ballooning since 1970.”

Jon asked Blucher how high their flight went. “At our peak, we were 1,000 feet off the ground, but most of the flight we were between 700 and 900 feet above the ground,” Blucher said. He says that people have differing reactions to ballooning. “There are people who would rather drive in rush hour traffic in L.A. then get into a balloon. But, if people get really scared, I let them sit on one of my tanks.” That technique gives some people a better sense of security.

Blucher says the camaraderie is what he loves the most about ballooning. “People can be on the field and watch us for the fun ballooning,” Blucher said. “They can get right up close. I welcome people to stand right by the basket and take pictures into the envelope, and then watch the competition balloons come in.”

Old West Balloon Fest is Nebraska’s premier Hot Air Ballooning Event. More than 80 colorful hot air balloons filled the sky in 2021. This was the sixth year of flying in Western Nebraska.

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