Come to High River, Alberta for the Heritage Inn International Balloon Festival + Night Glow. A balloon flight is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity
Watching hot air balloons in the skies over High River is magical—almost dreamlike. I already can’t wait for the 2019 Heritage Inn International Balloon Festival from Sept. 25 to 29, 2019. The festival’s sixth year, which wrapped in fall 2018, was one of the biggest yet. It started with the announcement that High River is Canada’s first balloon port. Balloonists travel, as many pilots are looking for places to fly year round. Why? In cities such as Calgary, airports have expanded their no fly zones due to air traffic safety rules. The new balloon port in High River offers what pilots are looking for. Flights will continue to be pleasant surprises—nearly any time of the year.
Jamie Kinghorn, a High River town councillor and 30-year pilot, started the Heritage Inn International Balloon Festival in 2013. It was the morale boost High River needed. The southern Alberta flood devastated the town and region a few months earlier. The town’s first balloon festival occurred as people and the town started restoration.
Seeing balloons in the air—one of them carrying The Mercer Report’s Rick Mercer—lifted peoples’ spirits. To this day, the festival remains a special one for the community. I was lucky to have attended that first year too.
Hot Air Balloon Festival Flight
With the 2018 Heritage Inn International Balloon Festival having started, I arrived at the Heritage Inn Hotel and Convention Centre in the early morning for my flight. The air was crisp and the wind, calm—the weather was promising. All flights are weather dependent, as excessive wind, any wind or snow, immediately ground balloons.
As in all other sports, safety is paramount. Everything starts with the pilot briefing, wherein the ballooning experts discussed weather reports. With the go ahead, I was off to the launch field with pilot Kinghorn.
If the flight is the meal, the balloon inflation is the food preparation and cooking. Seconds after I climbed into the balloon, we were up, up and away. Floating above the town, the oranges and greens of autumn in High River were stunning. As the festival offered non-competitive fiesta flights this year, we flew in hare and hound style.
We were first to lift off and the other balloons followed in close pursuit. Upon our landing, I was excited to get into the act, unveiling the large ‘X’ target on the ground for the other balloonists. It’s one of the ways balloon pilots compete. The pilot who drops their marker closest to the centre of the fabric target receives the most points.
Hot Air Balloon Festival Night Glow
The Night Glow is one of southern Alberta’s most popular fall events. In 2018, more than 15,000 people visited High River during the festival to take in the balloons, tethered to the ground, glowing like giant orbs.
The event is weather dependent and usually occurs on the Friday. Up-to-the-date info is available on the Heritage Inn International Balloon Festival Facebook page.
If the winds were to increase, the length night glow could be cut drastically short. Come early and know that the event is within walking distance from the community’s downtown. Food trucks are available on site. Once the balloon envelopes are inflated, members of the public are welcome to join the pilots on the field and get up close. No dogs are allowed on the field and smoking is strictly forbidden because of the gas.
If you have the opportunity to travel to High River in the fall, you must not miss the Heritage Inn International Balloon Festival and its incredible Night Glow.