Guide to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta takes place in Albuquerque, New Mexico each year during early October. This hot air balloon festival began in 1972 as the celebration of a 770 KOB Radio 50th birthday festivity.
The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta History

The station manager Dick McKee came to a brilliant idea to use the hot air balloon as part of radio’s birthday celebration. So, he asked Sid Cutter, the first owner of a hot air balloon in New Mexico to use his brand-new balloon for the festivities. And the rest is history.

However, the men wanted to go a step further and include more hot air balloons at the celebrations. So, on April 8, 1972, the first Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta gathered thirteen hot air balloons. The whole event was sponsored by KOB Radio and it took place in the parking lot of the Coronado Center Shopping Mall. More than 20,000 spectators and balloonists from Minnesota, Nevada, Arizona, California, Iowa, Michigan, and Texas participated.

In 1973, the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta hosted the first World Hot Air Balloon Championship and became an international event.

Since the 1970s, the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque grew each year to become the largest balloon festival in the world. In 2000, the number of participating balloons reached 1,019, which provoked the Balloon Fiesta Board to limit the number of registered balloons to 750. However, in 2001 the number of participating hot air balloons was cut once again, this time to 600, due to the lack of landing zones in a growing city.

The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Today

Today, the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is a nine-day event that runs from October 6th to October 14th. It gathers more than 500 hot air balloons each year and it is the largest hot air balloon festival in the world.

The launch field can accept up to 100,000 spectators, so if you want to observe inflation and take off procedures, make sure to secure your spot. However, a lot more people gather at landing points all over Albuquerque to enjoy the sight of landing colorful balloons.

Hundreds of flamboyant balloons float above the city and the Sandia Mountains each year during the first week of October, making the Fiesta the world’s most photographed event.

On weekend mornings and one-day mid-week, colorful balloons lift in the morning sky after the so-called Dawn Patrol double-checks the morning weather conditions. After the Dawn Patrol examines the weather conditions, they give a green light for the balloons to rise in the skies.

It doesn’t matter if you are a first-time visitor or a balloon fiesta veteran attendee – the sight of 600 colorful hot air balloons in the air is always a breathtaking experience.

The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Events

Every weekday morning, balloonists compete in challenging events. For example, in the key grab event, they need to launch at least one mile away from the launching field, and then fly back and navigate to the location where the envelope holding a key to a brand-new car is attached to a tall pole. The pilot who grabs the envelope first wins the vehicle.

The Dawn Patrol

 

The Dawn Patrol at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

The Dawn Patrol first started in 1978 when two balloonists from California came up with position lighting systems that allowed them to fly during the nighttime. Since then, the Dawn Patrol balloonists take off before sunrise and fly until the daylight. They observe other balloons taking off and examine the morning weather’s conditions for wind speed and its directions at different altitudes.

Artistic Vision

A great number of local Albuquerque artists enjoy using the huge hot air balloon cupolas as their canvases. Each year, they turn hundreds of hot air balloons into splendid paintings.

Balloon Glows

 

Balloon Glows at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

A lot of hot air balloons use their propane burners and get illuminated at night. Illuminated, these balloons stay still and do not take off during this event. Balloon enthusiasts fill the launch field each year to watch the illuminated balloons of every color, size and shape launching against the dark sky.  In addition, there is the Glowdeo event – special shape rodeos. This is a night glow for the balloons that have special shapes. Flowers, bumble bees, dinosaurs, and other animals fill the sky above the city and its surroundings each year.

Mass Ascensions

Mass Ascension at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

This is one of the biggest events of the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. All participating balloons take off in two waves. It is a spectacular experience to watch hundreds of hot air balloons filling the morning sky above Albuquerque. Launch directors coordinate the take off so balloons launch in a safe and synchronized manner. Don’t be surprised if you hear someone referring to Launch directors as “zebras” – it is because of the black-and-white outfits they are wearing.

Special Shape Rodeo

 

Special Shape Rodeo at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

Each year, a great number of unusually shaped balloons register for the event. This is the most popular part of the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta among children, as they enjoy watching balloons shaped like a wagon coach, milk cow, soda pop cans and many other originally designed balloons.

Special Events and Competitions

Additional events at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta include the Fiesta Challenge, where pilots attempt to drop their markers the closest to designed targets. Furthermore, there is America's Challenge Gas Balloon Race, which began in 1995. In this race, the long-distance hot air balloons are launched. Normally, the winner of this game is the balloon that travels the furthest. You’ll be astonished to learn that some of these long-distance balloons traveled as far as Canada.

There is also the Flight of the Nations Mass Ascension, with different nation balloonists launching one at the time, waving their nation’s flag.

However, the most exciting part of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta for most of its visitors is the fact that spectators are allowed to walk among the balloons as they are getting inflated and preparing to launch. Moreover, visitors are welcome to ask questions and take pictures with the pilots.

Nearly 750,000 visitors attend the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta each year, so make sure to plan your New Mexico trip to join the fun and experience this one-of-a-kind event.

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