Balloon Fiesta organizers target two new world records at 50th annual event

Balloons lit up as dusk fell over Balloon Fiesta Park during the first glow of the 2017 Balloon Fiesta. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

World records are nothing new to the organizers of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta; the event set the world record for the largest hot air balloon mass ascent in 2010, 2011 and again in 2019. And, this year, organizers are aiming to add two more world records to the party’s history balloons: the greatest number of balloons glowing at night, and the greatest number of remote-controlled balloons in the sky at once.

“It’s like having 10 Super Bowls, every day, in Albuquerque. But our footballs are balls,” Al Tertreault, chairman of the ball party board, said during a Wednesday panel. Albuquerque Economic Forum focused on the upcoming party.

This year marks the second time the balloon party has hosted the “Fiesta de los Globitos”, where children and adults fly 7-8ft high balloons via remote control. Last year, the event had 30 participants. This year, 85 people will launch the “miniature” balloons from a distance.

“It’s about teaching these kids to get into ballooning,” said Sam Parks, director of balloon operations.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the hot air balloon festival after the 2020 gathering was cancelled.

To celebrate the anniversary, organizers are recreating the original ascent at Coronado Center, where the first balloon party was held. Three of the four surviving pilots from the original event will be present on September 30, when 13 balloons commemorate the 1972 launch.

Paul Smith, the balloon’s executive director, said he remembered seeing the first ascent from the windows of his high school classroom.

“It was something that caught my attention at the time, and obviously it caught Albuquerque’s attention,” Smith said during Wednesday’s meeting.

For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic, musicians will be able to perform at Music Fiesta. This year’s fiesta features musical guests Restless Road, Lainey Wilson and Cole Swindell.

Likewise, the Interactive Balloon Discovery Center, where kids can learn about the physics of hot air ballooning, will return this year after a COVID-induced hiatus.

This year also marks the return of international balloons and balloonists. Twenty-two different countries will be present this year, as well as 45 of the 50 states. Taiwan and Ukraine will both be represented at the festival.

“We have more balls than we have room for,” Parks said. “…everyone wanted to come.”

The party had to turn away over 200 pilots interested in attending; this year, each launch square will be allocated four pilots, with more than 600 main pilots in total.

The party sold out multiple experiences, including its glamping facilities, RVs, hunters club and concierge system “a few minutes before sales opened,” Smith said. This year they are introducing “skyboxes”, made of shipping containers with raised platforms, which are still available for booking.

At the meeting, organizers expressed concerns about the future of the hot air balloon party due to a shortage of landing sites. Balloon party organizers are looking for open spaces 200 feet by 200 feet without trees or power lines for the balloons to land.

“That’s the biggest problem we’re going to have,” Tetreault said.

Tetreault also used local hotels to provide accommodations for the pilots.

“It’s really a community effort,” Smith said.