Two hot air balloons over the Stillwater Lift Bridge.
All photos courtesy Aamodt’s Balloons
For many Minnesotans in the metro area, places like Aamodt’s Apple Farm are a staple to fall. A trip to that particular orchard, though, sometimes gives you something else to look at—the ascent of a hot air balloon. For out-of-towners, it’s a novelty, but for St. Croix Valley locals, it’s a part of living there—or at least that’s how Scott Aamodt, owner of Aamodt’s Balloons (brother to the Chris Aamodt, owner of Aamdot’s Apple Farm), puts it. Still cool, but more commonplace. Aamodt usually takes people up from April through October, but he flies year round. He’s been taking people up for more than 30 years, and he still isn’t tired of it, so we thought we’d ask why.
“Really being from the St. Croix Valley area, it’s just about being exposed to it [hot air ballooning] because some of the innovators in ballooning are in this area. Ballooning started in this area before just about anywhere else in the country, so it’s about being exposed to it—ballooning in the St. Croix Valley goes back to the early ’60s.
“My dad was interested in it back in the early ’80s. He actually put an order in for a balloon, but our apple crop at our apple orchard got hailed out that year, so he canceled the order, and my brother and I picked it up again in the late ’80s [a few years after I graduated high school], and that’s when we started flying.
“It’s just like any other aircraft. There’s ground school and flight training. I don’t know [what I was expecting], I guess I had been a ground crew on hot air balloons for a period of time before I actually started flying, so I kind of knew how things worked, and then it’s just a matter of getting the bug.
“Once you get up one time, it’s something that you—for many of us, you get the bug and you just want to keep doing it.
“I’ve been lucky enough to fly all over the world, and I think the St. Croix Valley area is some of the most beautiful country to fly over just because of the different lakes and river valleys and the bluffs; there’s so much to see here. They’re lucky enough to be able to fly more often in southern states like in desert areas like Albuquerque, Phoenix, San Diego, places like that, because there’s very little weather, but there’s nothing to see. If you’re flying over large spans of desert, it isn’t the same as flying over the St. Croix Valley.
“Being able to show others the experience of flight in the balloon is what keeps us coming back. and fact that we travel with the wind, every single flight s different. It never gets boring. I could never be one of those guys who do helicopter rides over the grand canyon because they do the same thing all day long, and with hot air ballooning it’ a new adventure every time you fly.”
Advice for Scheduling a Ride
“The biggest thing about flying here for the general public is to be patient; we have a lot of weather in Minnesota,” Aamodt says. “If you’re patient and don’t mind a lot the fact that you might have to reschedule, I’ve never had anyone say it’s not worth the wait.”
This interview was edited for style and clarity.