STORY BY KEVIN RUSHWORTH
Two years after taking off as a premiere fall event for High River and southern Alberta, organizers with the Heritage Inn International Balloon Festival are once again welcoming visitors near and far to not only enjoy the balloons soaring overhead, but to take in the once-in-a-lifetime Balloon Glow.
The 2015 festival will take place from Sept. 23 to 27. Media flights will occur on Wednesday, with competition flights taking place on the Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Organizer and balloonist Jamie Kinghorn said High River is the perfect place to get up close and personal with the balloons and their pilots as well.
“That’s one thing that’s unique about High River,” he said. “People will be able to walk right up to the balloons, they’ll be able to talk to the pilots and really get a sense of what ballooning is all about.”
This year, pilots will attend the festival from such places as Belgium, Alaska, Colorado and potentially even the United Kingdom, Kinghorn added.
For a town that has been through much since the 2013 flood disaster, Kinghorn said the balloon festival is the time to come and see how far the community has come since those days.
“To come and see balloons flying and setting off over town and people waving, it’s just a different picture,” he said, adding that it remains special to see people waving up at him while he’s flying too.
Each year, the balloon festival grows in popularity.
The event takes place at the field east of the recreation complex, which is located at 228 12 Avenue SE.
Described by Kinghorn as being spectacular, the balloon glow features the crafts tethered to the ground and lighting up as pilots fire up their burners.
“It really is spectacular; it’s hard to describe until you’re actually there and part of it,” he said. “The energy that you feel in that launch field when we’re doing the glow (is amazing).”
The glow event is tentatively scheduled for Friday, Sept. 25, but if weather is rough, organizers will try again the evening of Sept. 26.
There will be 25 balloons at the festival. Organizers are talking with balloonists who own special shapes to have them participate as well.
As the main sponsor, the community’s Heritage Inn also acts as balloon central, Kinghorn said.
“If you get a room at the Heritage, you’ll be right in there amongst us balloonists and you’ll be more than welcome to come down to the (balloon) briefings and really get involved,” he explained.
Though last year’s event featured the Western Canadian Championships, there will be an increased competitive vibe this year.
The individual who secures first place during the High River festival will qualify to go to the World Balloon Championships.
In addition to the balloon festival, people of all ages will enjoy the annual River City Classics Car Club show and shine, which is held Sunday, Sept. 27.
As well, Alberta Culture Days will be celebrated in town from Sept. 25 to 27 as well. Finally, fixed-wing pilots will enjoy the fly-in breakfast at the High River Regional Airport.
For more information on the festival, please search Heritage Inn International Balloon Festival on Facebook.