Hot Air Balloon Races

Hot Air Balloon Races

Embark on an Inspiring Adventure

Imagine soft wind blowing through your hair, as the calm skies around you breathe out a beautiful and calming sense of serenity. Hundreds of hot air balloons are tethered to the ground, imposing yet spectacular, and ready for take-off. The balloons start lighting their burners one by one, displaying a great spectacle of colors, as each of the balloons is lit up in a different color. Together they match like puzzles across the evening sky, illuminating it in a rainbow array that could very well be a piece of modern art painting. A few more minutes and the balloons will start taking off, and glide across the sky as soft, gentle giants that seem to be just the perfect addition to the troposphere.

Got the image crystal clear in your head? Good, then you have found out what a hot air balloon race is like. In fact, it’s more spectacular than can be described in just a few words. A hot air balloon race is like a painting where the limitless sky is the canvas and huge nylon balloons are reduced to single dots of paint in the masterpiece. Simply put, it’s an incredible sight to behold and be a part of, and probably something everyone should experience at least once in their lifetimes. The memories created and the impressions gathered will be stored in your heart forever, and the whole event is sure to be the main talking point among friends and colleagues for months to come.

What’s so Special About a Hot Air Balloon Race?

While a regular hot air balloon ride is an incredible experience in its own, it’s the baby brother of hot air balloon races. Intimate flights in a single balloon are perfect for cultivating romantic feelings, and gliding through the beautiful sky with your loved one makes for the perfect setting for sharing your feelings and creating a bond stronger than any other. Large events like hot air balloon festivals and races, on the other hand, focus on the feeling of grandeur and awe. Instead of focusing solely on the wonders of nature and the beautiful landscapes showcased to you throughout a solo balloon ride, a hot air balloon race focuses on the balloons themselves. Hundreds of balloons together create a huge spectacle of man-made wonder that fits together seamlessly with the natural world. It’s the perfect symbiosis of human endeavor and natural power. Much like the seven wonders of the world impress us with the ability to put man-made objects amidst nature as equals, a hot air balloon race celebrates the wonders of the sky and man’s place in it.

For countless centuries, aerial flight was only a dream of the few crazy ones, and never an actual plan for people. Now, we have put ourselves high in the air along with birds, clouds and powerful currents. A hot air balloon race celebrates the fact that humans, for the first time in thousands of years, can be a part of the aerial community, so to say. Riding in a hot air balloon is natural and fitting, and the balloons find their place in the sky perfectly. Thus, observing hundreds or even thousands of balloons reasserts the following – the sky is not the limit for man. Flying free and careless as a bird is part of our nature, and, although we can’t do it all the time, it’s a necessity that can and should be fulfilled.

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How Do Balloons Actually Race?

The term “race” may seem confusing when referring to hot air balloons. With no means of propulsion other than the natural currents, the speed of a balloon is largely dependent on how well the pilot positions the balloon in the sky. And in all cases, there will be stronger and weaker currents. Obviously, the one to get in the stronger current would always win a race, right? That’s perfectly true and exactly the reason why hot air balloons don’t race in the traditional sense of the word.

Instead, let’s look at the etymology of the word. It dates to the 15th century, coming from the Old Norse rás, meaning “current”. It’s in this sense that the term “hot air balloon race” holds true to its name – it tests the pilots’ ability to ride the wind currents and make the necessary maneuvers. The goal in a hot air balloon race is not to finish a predetermined distance in the least amount of time. Instead, it’s all about control of the aircraft and ability to predict winds and change the currents you’re riding in to alter the direction of the balloon.

Balloon pilots train extensively for races. It takes a great amount of experience and skill to be able to work with the winds without any external sources of power. Compared to the natural world, it’s similar to how birds use wind currents and the flowing masses of air to glide in the air for hours on end. In fact, great frigate birds have even taken the skill so far as to actually be able to sleep mid-flight, as the wind carries them gently throughout the sky. It’s this skill of the birds that people have been admiring ever since observing them in flight, and a skill that’s tested in humans during hot air balloon races.

In the simplest sense, hot air balloon race is about how close the pilot can get to a set target. The targets can vary, but the main principle is that only the winds are used to maneuver. As the balloon is not tethered or propelled by any means other than the wind currents, it’s highly susceptible to all wind changes. As a result, it takes great skill to navigate different altitudes and catch different drifts to get closer to the target. What’s even more amazing is how well pilots have learned this – in many hot air balloon races, the results differ by fractions of an inch!

What Types of Hot Air Balloon Races Are There?

Types and rules of the hot air balloon race depend on the number of participants, balloon types and local governing ballooning rules. In different locations, race rules may vary, as can the number of balloons participating in the race. As you would imagine, plenty of room is required to hold a hot air balloon race, and typically, the races are conducted in valleys and open fields. Want to know the ins and outs of all the race options? Let’s take a look at the most popular hot air balloon race types that have been held throughout the years:

The Hare and the Hounds

This is arguably one of the most fun and captivating race types to watch. Instead of navigating toward set targets on the ground, the pilots (the Hounds) must chase the Hare balloon. The Hare balloon sets off first, and after some time, the Hounds are released. The Hare, just like in real life, leaps and evades the chasers, constantly changing altitudes and catching different wind currents to make following as difficult as possible. After some time of blood-pumping chase, the Hare finds a suitable place to land. There, a large plastic X is placed on the ground (usually about 50 feet wide). The Hounds then try to pass above as close to the center of the X as possible and drop their marker. The Hound that dropped its marker closest to the center of the target wins the race.

Key Grab

In this race type, the pilot’s ability to maneuver directly to a specific location and altitude is tested. Instead of dropping a marker at the target, the air balloon must come as close as possible to a pole fastened in the ground. At the end of the pole, usually about 20 to 30 feet in the air, a detachable ring is placed. The first air balloon pilot to grab the ring wins the race, and with it often a great prize ranging from a speedboat, a car or even a brand new hot air balloon.


This type of race tests the pilot’s ability to predict wind currents to the maximum degree. The pilot starts from location A and must fly to the first target at location B. From there, the pilot must navigate to point C, located at an angle that’s behind location B. This requires changing the direction of the flight as efficiently as possible. The closer the pilot gets to location C, the smaller the angle ABC. The pilot with the smallest turn angle wins.

Watership Down

This race is a more advanced variation of the Hare and the Hounds. The Hounds start a predetermined distance away from the Hare and fly towards the first target, located at the launch site of the Hare. When the Hounds get to the first target, the Hare takes off and a chase ensues. The second target is placed by the Hare in a suitable location after a chase of a set distance. The combined distance of the two markers dropped is measured, and the pilot that got closest to each of the targets wins.

Minimum Distance Double Drop

The minimum distance double drop race has two set scoring area circles, with a set distance between them. The pilot must fly to the first scoring area and drop the marker anywhere. From there, the same must be done with the second scoring area, with the goal to have as little distance between the markers as possible. The trick of the race is that while trying to get their markers as close to the edge of the scoring area as possible, it’s possible they’ll drop it outside of the scoring area, resulting in no score. Utmost precision is required to get the lowest possible distance between the markers.

While these are the most popular and most entertaining hot air balloon races to watch, there are plenty more types of competition for balloons. Almost all are usually a variation of a target drop race, where dropping the marker as close to a set target wins the race. However, there are races where other variables such as the speed of flight, the area covered during the flight or the distance measured in a set amount of time win the race.

Why Attend a Hot Air Balloon Race?

While indisputably the highlight of the event, the hot air balloon race is by no means the only thing to see at the event. These colossal gatherings often feature a variety of games, attractions and fun activities for a great time with family and friends. It’s not uncommon for playgrounds and bouncy castles to be set up within the event grounds for families with children. Various caterers offer fresh and delicious food and drinks to enjoy throughout the day. Competitions and on-ground races for the viewers often take place throughout the day, offering tons of adventure and even valuable prizes.

But the biggest attraction of hot air balloon race is obviously the balloons themselves. The race is part of a festival, a display of color and grandeur. Right from the early hours of the morning, as the balloons are set up and tethered to the ground, you’ll be filled with awe and excitement. When the centerpiece of the festival – the hot air balloon race – takes place, you’ll feel blood pumping and emotions flying high. And then, in the evening, the sunset will reflect in the hundreds of balloons illuminating the sky in a spectacle of light and colors quite like no other. Bring your friends, family, and colleagues, spend memorable time with your special other or create a great bond with your kids. A hot air balloon race is an event everyone will have a great time at!

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