As a spectator, the Supagas Canowindra International Balloon Challenge is a visual marvel.
Each April, the event, which is Australia’s largest hot air balloon festival, attracts visitors from all over to watch the hot air balloons float gently across the morning sky.
But in the air, there’s a lot more going on.
The 2022 Canowindra International Balloon Challenge runs from April 2-10, and while the weekends focus on creating a visual spectacle in the sky for visitors to enjoy, the week is all about competition.
A balloon is a 10-story air bag without a flywheel. So it’s not like an airplane. You have to work with the wind conditions you have. It’s a bit like sailing but in three dimensions because you can also go up and down.
– Adam Barrow, Vice President, Canowindra International Balloon Challenge
Competitive hot air ballooning is a global sport where hot air balloon pilots compete to compete in a series of challenges.
The challenges are all about precision, and each flight during the competition has different goals, with teams being scored based on their performance.
Adam Barrow, vice-president of the Canowindra International Balloon Challenge organizing committee, says to think about sailing, but in three dimensions.
“A balloon is a 10-storey bag of air that has no flywheel. So it’s not like an airplane. You have to work with the wind conditions you have. It’s a kind of like sailing but in three dimensions because we can also go up and down,” he said.
Each team has a pilot who rides the balloon, with a ground support crew.
Given their reliance on natural conditions, the route for each round is not set until that morning.
At Canowindra, Adam and a professional meteorologist, security officer and fellow balloon expert will get up around 3:30 a.m., review the weather conditions and set the day’s task, with balloons launched at sunrise.
The balloons all compete simultaneously, so they’re subject to the same weather conditions, and Adam said it doesn’t matter if there are people up there.
“Balloons can collide, it’s like a big pillow fight. So that contact is quite common and not dangerous. And they can all fly together, bounce off each other and move around a bit,” a- he declared.
“That’s what makes it so spectacular to watch because we have 15 balloons all coming to the same place within minutes of each other.”
Spectators are invited to watch the competition daily – the starting point will be announced on the event’s social media pages at around 6.30am.
If you attend the balloon competition, you see the best of the best in the country.
This year it is the main training event for the Australian team which will travel to the World Championships in Slovenia in September.
“There are six drivers representing Australia this year, and all of those six drivers will be at this event, just trying to hone their skills and use it as a training event to get them in the best shape before they don’t ship all of their gear to Europe,” Adam said.
And the Canowindra International Balloon Challenge is not just about competition.
On both weekends of the festival, the balloons will take off from Canowindra town center at sunrise, weather permitting, so spectators can get closer to the action.
Then, on April 9 starting at 3 p.m., is the Cabonne Community Glow, which will be held at Canowindra Sports Oval.
The popular ticketed event sees the captive hot air balloons light up the night sky, syncing their flames to a musical soundtrack.
The event also features live music and night markets with local food and wine.
For more information on the Canowindra International Balloon Challenge, or tickets to the Cabonne Community Glow, visit the website www.canowindrachallenge.org.au.