The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is a vibrant, 9-Day event held annually in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It is the largest hot air balloon festival in the world, painting the sky with a palette of colors and a tradition that began with just 13 balloons in 1972. The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta was born out of a birthday celebration for 770 KOB Radio. The station’s general manager, Sid Cutter, owned a hot air balloon, and the idea of having a race between 13 balloons as a part of the birthday celebration was suggested by the station manager, Dick McKee. The event, held on April 8, 1972, was a success, and it ultimately sparked the inception of the festival that has now grown into the world’s premier balloon event.
In its second year, the Balloon Fiesta moved to October to take advantage of Albuquerque’s “Albuquerque Box” phenomenon – a unique weather condition that allows balloon pilots to control and even retrace their flight paths. The “Albuquerque Box” is a set of predictable wind patterns in the Rio Grande Valley in early October. In the morning, the surface winds tend to flow from the north, while higher elevations have southerly winds. This wind pattern allows balloonists to ascend and descend into different wind currents, effectively providing the ability to navigate in a “box” and land close to their launch sites. The unique meteorological phenomenon makes Albuquerque an ideal spot for hot air ballooning and is a major reason why the Balloon Fiesta has flourished there.
Each year, the festival brings together about 500 balloonists from all over the world, making it the largest annual international event held in the United States. Over the span of nine days, the participants showcase their ballooning skills in various events like the “Mass Ascension,” where all participating balloons launch in two waves, filling the sky with a riot of colors. The entire venue is a total of 365 Acres, with a 60 acre launch field. “Chase crews” has the responsibility for assisting the pilot to inflate and deflate their balloon for each flight. A “Dawn Patrol” consisting of a group of select balloons launch prior to sunrise each morning. There is also a “Special Shape Rodeo” of balloons shaped as animals and cartoon figures.
The festival is not only a balloonist’s dream but also a massive draw for tourists. It attracts nearly a million visitors each year, who witness the spectacle, participate in the numerous events on the ground, and immerse themselves in the local culture and cuisine. There are typically multiple venues for music, street performers, and dancing. Merchandise and food concessions are plentiful. There is typically a car show, as well as a Chainsaw Carving exhibition.
For visitors seeking a more intimate experience, balloon rides are available throughout the festival. Both tethered and untethered rides are offered, giving guests a chance to ascend into the sky and enjoy a bird’s eye view of the Fiesta and the city. It’s an experience that adds an extra thrill to the festival, and one well worth enjoying.