The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta has multiple events throughout the 9 days. There are early morning sessions which include the Dawn Patrol where a few balloons (6 or so) launch just before sunrise to check out the winds. The balloons do a choreographed lighting of their burners which provided a lovely view of the balloons against the dark sky. Well worth the early morning.
As the sky starts to lighten up it is time for the Mass Ascension where many of the some 550 balloons at the fiesta take to the skies in or near the same time. It was a beautiful sight to see. We got really lucky in that the balloons launched every morning out of the 9 days. The newscasters said they can’t remember the last time that happened.
After the ascension some of the balloons would participate in competition events such as flying from off field back onto the launch field where they would throw a weighted marker onto a designated target.
Probably one of the more popular events is the Special Shapes Mass Ascension, known as the Rodeo, which was held two mornings. The Special Shapes balloons are huge and take up so much more space than the regular balloons that it is great fun to watch. The balloons are packed tightly against other balloons and the launch directors (referred to as Zebras and who wear black and white striped outfits) direct the balloons and the crowds to allow the balloons to safely lift off.
When you hear a whistle you know a balloon is launching and then the crowd roars. It is even more exciting if there is a bit of a wind and the balloon’s basket has to skip across the ground for 20 feet or more prior to lift off and the Zebras are running around trying to clear the area. It is quite the show especially when the balloons are simultaneously lifting off. Kudos to the Zebras for doing such an excellent job at keeping everything under control and safe.
Only one evening event was cancelled and that was the Special Shape Glowdeo. The Glowdeo is when the Special Shapes balloons inflate at dusk and then they all burn at the same time which is spectacular to see. They do not lift off during this event. Some of the balloons tried to inflate that night but they were fighting some strong winds so they put up the red flag, cancelled! But the fireworks continued on schedule. And the next night the Glowdeo was a go! Just beautiful.
There was an America’s Challenge scheduled, which is a multi day event for gas balloons, that had to be cancelled due to bad weather along their lengthy route.
Besides all the balloon events the Fiesta included the Parabatix flying team. These team of 6 flies in their paramotors in a synchronized flying event and even perform some competition moves and tasks. It was great fun to watch their performances. There are also several booths with displays, a volunteer crew signup booth (well worth it if you have not crewed before), the Balloon Museum, lots of food, and lots of activities. Never a dull moment.
As a side note we noticed that the days were there were only morning events and no evening events, which were Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, there were hardly any people attending compared to the mass crowds on the other days. We found those days to be glorious as we felt like we had the field to ourselves and could easily walk up to any balloon, get coffee without any lines, sit at any picnic table, and just really enjoy the day. The other days and events were wall to wall people and long lines which is not our cup of tea but we still managed to enjoy ourselves but it was a dramatic comparison.
We had a terrific time and highly recommend it to anyone even if you have flown in a hot air balloon previously. It is a spectacular event with something for everyone.