Balloon Festival: It's Love at First Flight
Kimberly Meyer's dad brought her to the Quechee Balloon Festival for the first time when she was four. It was for the fifth annual event -- and she hasn't missed a year since.
“The annual balloon festival, tied in with Father’s Day weekend, created a special tradition for us," said Meyer, who lives in Lebanon.
Wake-up is between 5 and 5:15 a.m. -- because who would want to miss the 6 a.m. takeoff? It never gets old: The balloons inflating, rising slowly into the sky in a kaleidoscope of color.
"We sit on the hill overlooking the fairgrounds or walk around the field as balloons inflate. For balloon teams that return year after year, we talk to the pilot and crews -- and even help out as the balloon inflates. After ascension, we hop back into the truck and chase the balloons on their travels across Quechee."
Meyer said she’s been there when balloons have landed in backyards, in parking lots, and have floated to the Quechee Gorge. One year, a pilot maneuvered his balloon under the gorge’s bridge.
“I don’t believe that has ever occured again,” Meyer said. “Other years, during our chases, we’ve been in the right place at the right time when a balloon has landed and we’ve helped the crew pack the balloon up. The very first year I remember helping a team pack up was when ‘Jurassic Park’ landed in a field off from Clubhouse Road.”
Meyer said the tradition -- and the community that is the Quechee Balloon Festival -- bring her back each year.
“Not only is this a special weekend for my father and me, but we have our favorite balloons and balloonists we follow and look for year in and year out,” she said. “For years I watched Gary Lovell’s balloon and team. For my 25th birthday I rode in Gary’s balloon with my dad, and again for my 30th. The fun isn’t contained to the balloon’s basket -- there is always something new to experience whether in the air or on the ground.”
Meyer said that because “every year is unique” there is no “best” viewing spot, “unless, of course, you’re in the balloon’s basket.”
“The weather is always changing and it’s rare to know exactly where the balloons are going to end up,” she said. “The chase is part of the magic. And the chase does not always endup at the gorge.”
Ask Rob Robertson of Quechee why he returns each year to the balloon festival and he’ll tell you it’s the balloons, the live local bands, and superb entertainment.
“The Balloon Festival is a great event for many reasons. The balloons, of course, are a big part of it, but even if they don’t go up on the day you’re there, you will still have a full enjoyable day at the event,” Robertson said.
Robertson said the live entertainment is “top notch and something for everyone.”
“The bands play nearly non-stop creating a soundtrack for the whole event that’s always upbeat and fun,” he said. “There is lots of other talent from local dance groups to comedy acts and sometimes acrobatic type acts. I love the carnival feeling and the wide variety of food at the event. There are great activities for kids from toddlers all the way up, and events like skydivers, and the Frisbee dogs are there every year.”
For tips for visitors, Meyer said to be flexible and dress warmly in layers. The earliest balloons take flight is 6 a.m, so the grass of the fairgrounds is often dewy, but by 8:30 a.m. the sun is heating everything up.
- Bring a blanket or chairs to sit on the fairground hill to watch the balloons inflate, or during the Balloon Glow. Wear comfortable shoes like boots or sneakers.
- If you want to go walking around with the balloons through grasses and fields, wear bug and tick repellent.
- Bring a camera with plenty of batteries. “You never know when you’ll get that perfect shot,” Meyer said.
- Get to know the pilots and their crews. A lot of time, energy, and training goes into flying a balloon.
- Consider taking a balloon ride!
- Passes are good all weekend long, so consider a few trips to the festival grounds at different times.