STORY BY JANE DEACON
Last September if you looked up, way up, to the skies above High River, you would’ve seen something a little out of the ordinary: Darth Vader.
World-renowned hot air balloon pilot Michael Lambert of Belgium brought his specially crafted 26-metre-high balloon, built in the shape of Darth Vader’s mask, to High River for the Canadian Hot Air Balloon Championships.
After the event was a smash success, High River is poised to become the site of an annual hot air balloon festival held every September.
“It’s something that people young and old love to see. And it’s something that draws people from all over the place,” said organizer Jamie Kinghorn. “Sometimes you can tell people how great an experience something is and they kind of nod their heads, but when they get out and they see it and they feel it, it’s just an unbelievable feeling.”
From Sept. 24-28, High River will host its second hot air balloon event, sponsored by the Heritage Inn and Suites. While this year won’t be a Canadian championships, 20 pilots from around the world are set to visit the town to compete with each other for bragging rights and put on a show for the crowds below.
In their brightly coloured hot air balloons, pilots will take daily flights over the skies of High River, with designated launch points for visitors to come and check out the action.
This year’s event will also feature the very popular balloon glow, where all of the balloons set up in a local field and light their flames at dusk, filling the sky with globes of colour.
The event will again be held in conjunction with High River Culture Days and the River City Classics Show and Shine, ensuring the town will be a hive of activity during the weekend of Sept. 26-28.
Visitors should also mark their calendars for next September, when the 2015 Canadian Hot Air Balloon Championships will return to High River. There is also potential for a world championship event to take place in the region in the years to come, said Kinghorn.
Asked what it is about hot air balloons that captures people’s imaginations, Kinghorn said it may come down to the fact that balloons were man’s first form of flight.
“The first time man took to the sky was in balloons,” said Kinghorn. “It’s a peaceful thing. There aren’t engines and all of that sort of stuff. It’s a very quiet, peaceful slow-moving experience. It’s a spectacular airshow.”