The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is a yearly balloon festival that takes place in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA. The event runs for nine days beginning the first Saturday of October. The balloon fiesta is a nine day event featuring between 600-700 balloons, including over 100 special shapes. After 38 years the event retains its rank as the largest hot air balloon festival in the world. It also considered the world’s most photographed multi-day event.
The balloon fiesta began in 1972 as the highlight of a 50th birthday celebration for KOB Radio. Radio station manager Dick McKee asked Sid Cutter, owner of Cutter Flying Service and the first person to own a hot air balloon in New Mexico, if he would fly his balloon “Roadrunner” as part of the festivities. The two began discussing ballooning, along with conversation and help from Oscar Kratz, and McKee asked what the largest gathering of hot air balloons to date had been. 19 balloons in England, Cutter replied. Kratz asked “Can we get 19 here?” Cutter agreed to try. He got commitments from 21 pilots, but bad weather kept some of them from arriving in time. The first fiesta ended up as a gathering of 13 balloons on April 8, 1972, sponsored by KOB. The first event was located in the parking lot of the Winrock Shopping Center with 20,000 spectators and with balloonists from Arizona, California, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada and Texas taking part. McKee, Cutter, and Kratz are the three men who had origninally started the balloon races. The first fiesta was actually a “Roadrunner-Coyote Balloon Race”, with 1 balloon being the “Roadrunner” and the others being “Coyote” balloons. The winner of the race was the Coyote who landed closest to the Roadrunner. This race has continued as part of the Balloon Fiesta today.
..The next year Albuquerque hosted the first World Hot-Air Balloon Championships in February and the fiesta became an international event. In 1975 Albuquerque was looking at hosting the World Championships again, but the event was scheduled for October. So the fiesta was moved to correspond with the championships. To maintain interest in Albuquerque’s bid to host the championships, a balloon rally was held in February of that year.
The number of registered balloons reached a peak of 1,019 in 2000, prompting the Balloon Fiesta Board to limit the number to 750 starting in 2001, citing a desire for “quality over quantity”.The limit was changed to 600 in 2009 – citing recent growth in the city and a loss of landing zones. On any given day during the festival, up to 100,000 spectators may be on the launch field where they are provided the rare opportunity to observe inflation and take off procedures. Countless more people gather at landing sites all over the city to watch incoming balloons.
The best resource for accurate information on the history of the Balloon Fiesta and annual event activities is the official website at BalloonFiesta.Com.