I have a slight fascination with hot air balloons. Maybe it’s because we’re both filled with the same substance (ha ha!), or because the giant colorful nylon reminds me of playing “popcorn” in phy ed class with a parachute, but most likely it’s because you get to float quietly like a butterfly, glide like a bird, feel the wind on your face from thousands of feet up in the air, all while standing in a little basket.
Plus, hot air balloons just look so pretty from a spectator’s vantage point, with their bright, cheery colors dotting the skyline.
Did you know that hot air balloons have been around since 1783? And when the first hot air balloon landed in a vineyard in France, local farmers raced toward it with pitchforks, ready to attack the strange object that came from the sky. According to Science in Depth, “To prevent the farmers from destroying the balloon, the two Frenchmen flying the balloon offered the farmers a bottle of champagne, as thanks for allowing them to land in their field. Today, in memory of that first courageous flight, champagne (or sparkling wine) is often enjoyed after a hot air balloon ride.”
What? Champagne is part of the experience? Sign me up!
Did you also know that the sport of flying hot air balloons is called “ballooning”? (Makes sense to me.) If you were to purchase a top-of-the-line balloon, it can run you $11,000 and up! (Clearly you have to be passionate about this activity as this is not a cheap hobby.) In order to actually fly a hot air balloon, you have to first get a balloon’s pilot license (balloons are aircraft, regulated under the Federal Aviation Regulations). Ultimately, the weather (more specifically, wind), location, the size of the balloon, and the experience and personality of the balloon captain and crew can make or break a balloon ride.
See, isn’t this interesting? Now you can impress your friends with your newfound hot air balloon trivia!
What’s even more interesting is that there just so happens to be a fun winter event for balloonists and spectators (like me!) right across the river in Hudson, Wis. this very weekend—the 23rd Annual Hudson Hot Air Affair Feb. 3-5, 2012.
The lineup of activities includes an evening parade (complete with a fireworks grand finale), around 40 hot air balloon launches, geocaching, the Up, Up & Away 5K Fun Run, smooshboarding (a wacky winter sport where four people ride together on a set of skis and attempt to ski an obstacle course), arts and crafts, an evening hot air balloon moon glow (bring your camera), and a chili cook-off.
I hope to see you there!
If you’d like to take a ride in a hot air balloon (costs typically range from $200/person on up), here’s a list of local places that will take you up, up, and away:
- Aamodt’s Hot Air Balloon Rides (Stillwater) – 651-351-0101
- Balloon Ascensions Unlimited (Jordan) – 952-492-5331
- Minneapolis Hot Air Balloons – 1-800-791-5867
- Soaring Adventures (Mankato, Minneapolis and St. Paul) – 651-646-1645
- Stillwater Balloon (Lakeland) – 651-439-1800