For nine days in October, it’s the most beautiful time of the year in New Mexico. The skies over Albuquerque will be filled with vibrant balloons for the 50th Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is internationally recognized as the sport’s premier event. It creates an enchanted world of specially shaped balloon rodeos, twilight balloon glows, and vibrant balloon-filled skies. This year, the festival launches on October 1 and ends on October 9.
During the Balloon Fiesta, guests can expect to see more than 500 balloons participating in early morning mass ascensions, enchanting specially shaped balloons filling the skies, and in the evening, 200 balloons light up the evening sky with balloon glows and spectacular fireworks.
For the Dawn Patrol Show, pilots take off before sunrise and fly until landing sites become visible, giving other balloonists an idea of wind speeds and direction at different altitudes.
As the premier morning event, the Mass Ascension features hundreds of colorful hot air balloons launching to the skies in two waves. The dazzling and vibrant show can last up to two hours. On Mass Ascension days, the Dawn Patrol balloons put on a show with choreographed inflation and launch to music.
On the first Saturday evening, gas balloons launch at dusk to the national anthem, floating slowly up and away competing in a distance competition as part of America’s Challenge Gas Balloon Race.
The Twilight Twinkle Glow, Balloon Glow, and Night Magic Glow are a few of the most highly anticipated events. Just before dusk, balloons are inflated and tethered. Then, the Balloonmeister orders ignition and the burners fill the balloons and the sky with a kaleidoscope of brilliant colors. People can walk amongst the balloons.
All of the balloons launch from Balloon Fiesta Park, a 78-acre grassy field that is the size of 56 football fields.
This year, there are more than 650 pilots registered to participate including 120 special shape balloons and 68 pilots representing 21 countries (not including the United States of America): Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.
Pilots participating in the competitive events will launch off-site and fly towards Balloon Fiesta Park on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday during the event.
83 remote-control balloons are participating in the Fiesta de los Globitos. This rally will feature dozens of tethered balloons, which are scale model balloons, about 30 feet tall. These will be launched on specific days during the event.
Hot Air Balloon Competitions
There are three different competitions during the fiesta: Judge Declared Goals, Fly-in Task, and Key Grab (Ring Toss).
The Judge Declared Goals tests the pilots’ skills. Balloon pilots must fly to designated targets at least one mile away from the launch field.
Even the most talented balloon pilots are challenged when it comes to fly-in taste. Pilots must drop a weighted marker on a specified target within Balloon Fiesta Park ranging from drop heights of only inches to 200 feet above the ground.
As one of the most difficult competitions, the Ring Toss is also one of the most popular and exciting to watch and compete in. Balloons launch from at least one mile away and fly to the field. Once there, pilots must navigate to one of five tall poles. Each ring is worth a prize if the pilot can place it over one of the poles.
About The Balloon Fiesta
What started as a quaint launch of 13 balloons in 1972 has grown to a massive, nine-day celebration with more than 500 balloons.
The event is made possible in October by a phenomenon called the “Albuquerque Box,” a combination of weather patterns and geographic landscape, the box allows balloonists to control and even retrace their adventure. The climate is perfect for spectators and pilots as they are more likely to take off from and land at the same location.
At the 49th event, Balloon Fiesta launched more than 540 hot air and gas-filled balloons. It also hosted pilots representing seven countries and more than 70 food and vendors. Fun fact: it’s been said that the breakfast burrito gained prominence at Balloon Fiesta because it’s the perfect grab-and-go meal for the pilots.
Interested in hot air balloons? Learn more about festivals and the best place to take your first ride: