Great Reno Balloon Race
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull
What began in 1982 with 20 hot air balloons has grown into the world’s largest free hot air balloon event drawing more than 125,000 people each year – the Great Reno Balloon Race. Over the event’s three days, attendees gather before dawn at Rancho San Rafael Regional Park just north of downtown Reno, some in their pajamas, to watch up to 100 balloons take to the skies of northern Nevada.
First up is the glow show, where select balloons show their glow for the crowd. As the balloons light up like light bulbs in the dark, oohs, ahhs and wows can be heard throughout the crowd as the magical show of colors delights.
After the morning glow, five or six hot air balloons qualified to fly in the dark rise into the early dawn sky for Dawn Patrol. The balloons dance across the darkened sky to choreographed music as their colors illuminate the early morning hour.
As the sun inches up and the sky starts to lighten, the crowd begins to wander onto the field amidst the balloons as the pilots and crews prepare for flight. The roar of the fire burners fills the air as the balloons are filled and they begin to take shape with splendor as they inflate, forming a sea of vibrant colors.
Balloons of all shapes and sizes come to life – a stagecoach, Darth Vader, Elvis, Yoda, and dozens more – preparing to depart into the sky as the sun continues to rise and begins to warm the morning, creating a cerulean blue backdrop to the rainbow of hues.
There is nothing quite like the Mass Ascension. The sheer beauty of nearly 100 hot air balloons leaving the ground at once with such grace and whimsy leaves one awestruck.
Lifting off with our pilot, Ron Sanchez, in the Wells Fargo hot air balloon, we headed east toward the University of Nevada Reno and downtown Reno. While pilots can control the altitude of the balloon, air currents determine the direction and speed of the flight.
As we gently glided away, the crews and spectators back on the ground were like ants aside the giants as they formed a parade of colors that soon surrounded us in the sky.
The crew follows below keeping in touch with the pilot by radio. When it’s time to land, the pilot finds an open field or parking lot to bring the balloon back to the ground, as we did near Mackay Stadium at the University of Nevada Reno.
The balloon is loaded by the waiting crew into the van and the group returns to the launch site for a toast and first-time flyer ceremony. Thank you to Ron and the Wells Fargo balloon team for a great flight and a wonderful day!
In addition to enjoying the balloon events each day, attendees can stroll Balloon Boulevard where crafts, souvenirs, food and drinks are available. After Mass Ascension, the RE/MAX balloon provides tethered rides for children for a $5.00 donation to the “Children’s Miracle Network.”
Things to know before you go
Dress in layers & wear comfortable shoes. It’s cold at 5 am but gets warm as soon as the sun is up. Layering will give you the flexibility to adjust as the day progresses. Additionally, enclosed, comfortable shoes are your best footwear choice. The balloons launch from a field that will be dirty and/or muddy and requires a short hike to access.
Leave Fido at home. Dogs would not enjoy the crowds or sounds, so the event asks that they remain at home.
Bring a blanket or chairs is you want to sit. There is a designated blanket area or you can sit along the very edge of the launch field.
Arrive early. There’s limited parking at the event site. Park for free at the University of Nevada Reno’s north lots, but cars must be removed by 10 a.m. Parking also will be available at the corner of N. Sierra St. and McCarran Blvd. for a donation to the event.
Find more event and information on parking at the event, consult the Great Reno Balloon Race website.
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