Balloons fill the skies over Taos this weekend

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Good times get ready to take flight again this year with the 34th annual Taos Mountain Balloon Rally. This spectacular, not-to-be missed event will be underway Friday through Sunday (Oct. 28-30). Launch site is in the vacant lot along Albright Street, across from The Taos News offices. Admission is free.

On Saturday and Sunday mornings, Mass Ascensions are scheduled for 8:15 a.m. All outdoor events are weather permitting. So, if the autumn winds are gusty this year and liftoff is canceled, don’t be disappointed. This is for everyone’s safety.

The mornings may be chilly to start and then warm up, so dressing in layers is recommended. Parking is plentiful, and there will be vendors on hand serving up tasty breakfast burritos, donuts, coffee and more.

This hot air balloon rally is an invitational with hand-selected pilots each year. Only 35 balloons take flight and the pilots (who fly in larger rallies) enjoy the intimacy of this Taos weekend.

This event is organized by the all-volunteer Taos Mountain Balloon Rally Association (TMBRA), supported by the town of Taos, and held in conjunction with many Taos businesses and local artisans who donate thousands of dollars in sponsorship, lodging and handmade goods.

TMBRA board members are: President Chris Standard, Vice President Dave Doolittle, Secretary Joan Doolittle, Treasurer Neomi Standard, and members Sandy Olsen, Mike Olsen, Dennis Manzanares and Carmel Manzanares.

There is also a long list of yearly, dedicated sponsors. “We would like to acknowledge our town of Taos co-sponsors and also give recognition to the local lodgers who generously provide rooms for our pilots. Michael’s Kitchen bakes our donuts and provides coffee to our pilots,” Sandy Olsen said.

For the first time, Enchanted Florist and Electric Sheep Computers are sharing a sponsorship as a new option for local small businesses. “I just really feel that it is important that we support these events that bring visitors to Taos. Every business benefits from a good strong economy. Teaming up with Electric Sheep just seemed natural. They are our new neighbors,” Marjorie Perry, owner of Enchanted Florist, said.

If you think watching balloons ascend is thrilling, nothing compares to the rush of the burners igniting and the soft quiet when drifting. To earn a ride in a hot air balloon during the Taos Mountain Balloon Rally, visit its website to become a sponsor (you actually earn two rides). You’ll get to experience the ride and meet your pilot and their crew at the registration party.

For the first time this year, TMBRA is holding the pilot registration party at the KTAOS Solar Center, 9 State Road 150, north of El Prado. Radio station KTAO-FM 101.9 has been a big sponsor of the balloon rally for many years, and this year it is expanding its involvement.

Every year, TMBRA has a clothing booth and offers apparel with a unique design for each year, which have become collector’s items. “Our prices are competitive and all proceeds are turned back into the community in the form of the ‘Reach for the Sky’ scholarship awarded to a graduating senior. The more we raise, the more students benefit. This year’s recipient was Ian Haimowitz. In 2015 we awarded two scholarships,” Olsen said.

If someone wanted to purchase a balloon ride for a special event such as an anniversary, there are local companies who fly all year and give spectacular experiences in surrounding areas and into the Río Grande Gorge for a “splash and dash” river experience when possible.

One of the local pilots is Kris Braden of the Taos commercial balloon company, Pueblo Balloon. He is a “Pilot in Residence” for the Taos Mountain Balloon Rally Association. In previous years Braden has advised TMBRA on technical flight elements, especially about the weather. He’s had his pilot license since he was 14 years old.

“By the time I was 9, I knew I wanted to be a professional pilot in the summer and a professional snowboarder in the winter. I’m supervisor of the parking lot at Taos Ski Valley. I was previously in Guest Services. This is my ninth season working at the ski valley. I am living my dream life,” said Braden, who is also known by his nickname “Maverick.”

Tempo asked Braden to explain how he got into ballooning at such a young age. He comes from a ballooning family in Albuquerque; his father flew his first year as a licensed pilot in 1984. “I went up with my dad all the time. He thought of it as a family event. I loved it. I feel more comfortable in the air than on the ground.” To date, Braden has logged 4,000 hours of flying time and also does balloon repairs.

Leslie Cronin is the reservations specialist for Pueblo Balloon. When asked what a hot air balloon ride is like she says, “For me personally it’s the coolest thing besides meeting the Rolling Stones in 1978.” She points out that flying over the Río Grande Gorge is one of the top five balloon flights in the country.

Braden agrees. “I’ve flown in 35 states and my favorite flight is the Río Grande Gorge. At Pueblo Balloon, we fly year-round. In the summers, we fly over the Gorge. In the winters, we fly an in-town experience.”

For those of us on the ground, you may see the balloon chasing crew driving by. Braden likens this team to storm chasing. “Remember, I’m flying a balloon that has no steering wheel; I can’t turn right or left. The crews are driving all over the mesa. Also they send up helium Pilot Information Balloons. Getting off the Gorge, this helps me see which way the wind is blowing.”

“I took my first hot air balloon ride nearly 10 years ago and it has never lost its novelty. Taos has such beautiful scenery,” Sandy Olsen said.

For more information, visit taosballoonrally.com or call (575) 758-9210.

2016 Schedule of Events

 Friday (Oct. 28)

7-7:30 a.m. Dawn Patrol

8:15 a.m. Mini-Ascension

8:30 a.m. Tether Rides for School Children

4-10 p.m. Pilot and Sponsor Registration at KTAOS

Saturday (Oct. 29)

7-7:30 a.m. Dawn Patrol

8:15-9 a.m. Mass Ascension

1 p.m. Balloon Rally Parade, starts at TMBRA Field, continues along Paseo del Pueblo Norte y Sur, ends at Kit Carson Park. Picnic to follow.

Dusk ​“Balloomenshine,” inflated, grounded balloons light up; named tongue-in-cheek after Taos Society of Artists founder Ernest Blumenschein.

​Sunday (Oct. 29)

 7-7:30 a.m. Dawn Patrol

8:15-9 a.m. Final Mass Ascension

11:30 a.m. Closing Ceremonies

If you go …

• Dogs are forbidden on the site, leave them at home.

• When driving near the launch site, keep your eyes on the road – not the balloons.

• Keep track of your children.

• Do not step on balloon fabric or guide lines.

• Watch out for chase trucks moving through crowds.

• Dress warm and in layers.

• Cameras are allowed, but don’t interfere with launch crews.

• Do volunteer for chase crews. You may even get a ride.

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