Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta: From 13 entrants in 1972, to 550 in 2012
By Joe Olvera ©, 2012
From 13 hot-air balloons in 1972, the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta has “ballooned” to 550 this year, turning the extravaganza into an international event bringing balloon enthusiasts to Lobo City from different parts of the world. The pilots, as they are called, will represent 21 countries from across the globe. Last year, the huge Fiesta attracted more than 730,000 spectators and it is expected that the draw will bring just as many this year, if not more. The event kicks off in the early morning of Saturday, October 6, and culminates on October 14.
One of the more exciting events is known as the Mass Ascension – where, starting at 6:30 a.m., a total of 550 balloons rise into the air simultaneously. The mass rise is a sight to behold as the colorful and huge crafts take to the skies. Other important and attractive sights is the Special Shapes Rodeo, in which oddly shaped balloons display their power. Included in this jump to heaven are a giant panda, a pink dragon, and the infamous Darth Vader. New to the event this year, is an Elvis-shaped balloon, a fire-truck and a purple shamrock.
One popular event which can gain the winner a top prize of $1,000 is the hot-air balloon race. However, due to a shortage of helium and the expense the gas requires, the race will be curtailed in that only five balloons will race across the landscape. The American Challenge Race will not be scrapped, but, only five balloons will be able to participate. The shortage of helium and the high cost of the only gas allowed to fill the balloons will have an impact. In past years, some of the racers have gone as far as Maine, Florida, and even into Canada.
The cost of helium has increased from$3,500 to fill a balloon to $15,000 making the cost prohibitive to would-be racers. This year, only hydrogen-gas filled balloons will be able to participate in the amazing race. Hydrogen gas is less expensive, but, most balloons in the U.S. are not equipped to handle the potentially volatile gas. Hydrogen-gas balloons are very popular in Europe. Thus, of the five balloons that will be racing, two of the teams are from outside the U.S., including two pilots from Russia. A website for the Albuquerque Convention & Visitors Bureau says that a manufacturer in the U.S. is already making hydrogen-gas balloons, although they might not be ready for this year’s race. In 2002, as many as 14 racers streaked across the sky.
Barbara Perkins, of the Albuquerque Avalanche-Journal, wrote in an article that the Fiesta started in 1972 and it has grown proportionately. “Albuquerque, located in a high desert rift valley, is a perfect playground for ballooning,” said Perkins. “The city’s massive Balloon Fiesta Park, staging ground for Fiesta’s events, includes 77 grassy acres, where spectators are free to roam the launch field and interact with pilots and crew.”
Other events at the Fiesta include a chainsaw competition, live music, and booths with vendors selling balloon themed t-shirts and other paraphernalia. One special event is called the Balloon Glow, in which pilots ignite and inflate their balloons, which remain on the ground while lighting up the night sky. Admission to the Fiesta is $8; children 12 and under enter free. Parking is $10, with park and ride being available. The Balloon Fiesta Park is located at the North End of Albuquerque.