COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- The color and spectacle of hot-air balloons were absent from Memorial Park last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic but preparations are underway for a spectacular return during the holiday weekend.
The 45th Labor Day Lift-Off balloon festival starts Saturday and continues through Monday.
Nearly 80 balloons -- the most in the event's history -- are registered, and organizers said that it's a sign of how eager pilots and spectators are to have the celebration back.
"The relationship between pilots and spectators is great," said Scott Appelman, one of the lead organizers of the event. "And Colorado Springs property owners are really good about letting us land on their property if we need to."
Pilots can assemble a balloon from a kit, have one made by a manufacturer or make one themselves.
"A homemade balloon requires about 40 hours of sewing and one weekend of cutting the fabric," said Tim Baggett, a festival volunteer from Austin, Texas. "And before then, a couple months of planning and the designing of it, and then about ten hours of just experimental flying."
In past years, as many as 165,000 spectators showed up during the three-day weekend to watch the floating giants of all shapes and sizes rise into the air, bounce off the surface of nearby Prospect Lake and illuminate the park in the popular evening balloon glows.
Organizers are hoping for good weather, with no rain or strong winds that would delay or cancel the balloon events.
Dave Bair, the balloon meister, is in charge of determining whether conditions are right for launching.
"Sometimes we'll have to cancel a launch because of rain or winds that are too strong," he said. "That disappoints a lot of people and they ask why we can't launch later. It's because weather is most stable at dawn. After that, it's more likely to be unsettled and since we can't steer our balloons, weather is everything."
Pilots from 17 states will participate.
The Lift-Off also will provide live music, food and drink vendors and a variety of kid-friendly and family activities.
Last year's event wasn't canceled but was spread out among several locations across the city to promote social distancing during the pandemic.
For details about parking and other information, visit: http://labordayliftoff.com.