Kick off winter with lofty festival

For snowbirds who want to get a bit of an early start on their winter vacation, Albuquerque’s Balloon Fiesta is a perfect way to kick off your trip. The event, which runs from Oct. 4 to 12 is a popular spot for Canadians who want to experience the Guiness World Record holding hot air balloon festival.

“We do have a lot of Canadians who attend and of the 550 pilots we have from around the world, we usually, as we do this year, have 22 Canadian pilots,” said director of media relations Tom Garrity.

The annual Balloon Festia has grown to be the largest hot air balloon festival in the world because of a unique weather phenomenon known as the ‘Albuquerque box.’ The box means that balloon pilots can basically take off and land in the same area, which they can’t do in most parts of the world.

“A pilot can go up and catch a southern breeze. But all they have to do is go up a little bit and they catch a northern breeze. So there is a box that they just stay within.”

Garrity said another factor that drives people to the event is the great weather for spectators.

“In the morning it’s usually mid-50s (12 C) but it typically warms up to the mid-70s (24 C) so it’s a nice temperature,” he said.

The event also gives unparalleled access to spectators compared to balloon festivals in Canada or other countries.

“You can go right up to the balloons in the field and get first hand experience with the pilots,” said Garrity, noting that pilots will even ask spectators for a hand to launch their crafts.

If you want to actually go up in the balloons and get an aerial view of the New Mexico city and its surroundings, there are still tickets available.

“Going in the balloons is one of the hottest tickets in town, but if you haven’t got them yet, there are still some left,” he said.

The event features five mass ascensions throughout the nine days – one on each of the weekend days and one on the Wednesday in the middle of the event. At the 2011 festival, 345 balloons all took off within one hour, which was good enough to capture the Guiness World Record for the greatest mass hot air balloon ascent.
This year’s theme is Spirit of the Winds and it was chosen by a Ugandan missionary who previously lived in Albuquerque. Garrity said the theme is important because not only does the event take place in a spiritual area, it also relies so much on the winds.

“If winds are high, the chances of flying are not good. You need calm wind or no wind,” he said.
For more information on the festival or to purchase tickets, visit www.balloonfiesta.com.

General admission tickets are $8 per session.