Just after sunrise on September 26, the Heritage Inn International Balloon Festival in High River made its last week-long celebration flight, the last of a record five flights.
The festival typically manages to make three or four flights during the week due to the windy conditions, said Jamie Kinghorn, the event’s chairman. This year has therefore been a great success.
“When we talk about wind, a lot of people think of it as the wind that’s on the surface,” Kinghorn said. “But when we talk about winds, we are talking about winds from the ground up to about 4,000 feet. So we are constantly measuring these gains before the flight and sometimes it will be perfectly calm on the surface but at 1500 feet it could go up to 20 knots and we will cancel the flight if that happens, our limit is around 10 knots and so The wind is the most important factor, of course the rain and the clouds and all that matters too. It is just obvious that we are not stealing then. But for the general public, sometimes it is beautiful, but the high winds are not like what there is on the ground. Takeoff optional, landing is not.
The event originally started in 2013, following flooding that occurred in June of the same year. There had been previous talk of hosting a hot air balloon event, Kinghorn said, which most believed would be canceled after what had happened.
“The organizing committee felt it was really important to the community that we move forward with the event, so we called some friends of ours from out of town, a group of pilots came to High River and we put on the first event balloon for the city, ”Kinghorn said,“ What he focused on was mostly the volunteers and residents here who helped rebuild High River, and that was such a success that we did it again for 2014. At that point it was more about getting people to High River and showing, really, how far away we were from the flood, how far we were from the flood. built the city and where we were and since then it has only grown.
The event now attracts pilots from across Canada (including Bill Dickinson of Rolling Hills), but from all over the world, with pilots coming from the US, UK and even Belgium, and has inspired many from the region. consider hot air ballooning as a hobby.
“When we started this in 2013, I was the only hot air balloon pilot in High River, and High River really had no knowledge about hot air ballooning, what it meant, what it was, the excitement that was going on there. ‘accompanies and that sort of thing,’ Kinghorn said. “As the event has grown, we now have seven people who have actually graduated. From the High River area following the balloon event, we are doing a school program. A few weeks ago, the Boys and Girls Club did some ball carrying ground training. As a result of the event, the Town of High River dedicated land on the northeast side of town, which is just a hot air balloon port, to be reserved for hot air balloons. It is a public port for anyone with a valid balloon pilot license. So over there, that’s where we do our homeschooling, we teach people about balloons and how to hang them and what the burners are, and all that stuff.
Hosting this year’s event has been a somewhat unique challenge, Kinghorn said, due to the obvious desire not to become a super broadcast event. For this reason, the very popular Balloon Glow had to be canceled, as the expected crowds could not safely distance themselves due to the large number of spectators. In previous years, shuttles should have been organized for the Balloon Glow, due to the unavailability of parking nearby.
“We had to keep the audience at bay,” Kinghorn said. “You probably noticed that we had barriers around the launching field and the public was not allowed to enter that area. Every participant in the event, be it a pilot or a crew member, a volunteer, a sponsor or a passenger, we had to confirm that they were either doubly vaccinated or had a recent negative 72 hour test. We did it for everyone at the hotel, all the staff, everyone so we were strict about it. What we did was once we checked, we handed out armbands so that people in the circle would know that if you saw a bracelet on your left arm and it was yellow it was yellow. was safe. It made everyone who had come out, all the volunteers and the like, feel a little more at ease. We recognize that you can still get COVID, but at least we knew everyone was vaccinated. “
Overall, even with restrictions, Kinghorn considers this year a success in promoting the hobby and celebrating High River, and looks forward to planning next year’s event when the lineup begins to increase. in January.
“Our sort of Heritage International Balloon Festival mission statement is to replace all images on Google,” Kinghorn said. “Google High River, we want images of balloons to appear. And that’s kind of what will tell us when we’re successful.