Though Flathead County in Montana seems like a serene spot for a hot air balloon flight, don’t let the landscape fool you. A local hot air balloon pilot reportedly received an angry voicemail from a woman threatening to shoot a balloon out of the sky if it traveled over her home.
Flathead County sheriff’s deputies had to talk the woman off the ledge and remind her that there are people aboard the balloon who would fall to their death if she fired at the vessel.
Hot air balloons are a familiar sight in Flathead County, home of Glacier National Park, which encompasses more than a million acres and includes two subranges of the Rocky Mountains, 130 lakes, and thousands of species of plants and animals. The ecosystem is known as the “Crown of the Continent Ecosystem.”
Phoenix Balloon Flights offers early morning and sunset flights near Glacier National Park from July to September. Flights usually last an hour, but riders should schedule three hours to enjoy the entire experience.
According to the company website, Phoenix Balloon Flights owner Kevin Flanagan “has been flying balloons since 1984. What started out as a gift for his birthday has become a passion: sharing the joy of ballooning with people all over the world. Kevin’s company 2 Fly Us is based in Phoenix, Arizona, but from July through September he enjoys escaping the summer heat flying passengers in Kalispell, MT.”
Launch locations depend on wind speed and direction. The company has launch sites throughout Kalispell, Whitefish, and Columbia Heights, providing spectacular scenic rides based on daily wind conditions.
Flanagan offers a few tips for passengers.
“We take small groups of no more than four people on our balloon flights. This means that for during a standard flight, it’s usually two couples plus the pilot. For private flights, your private party, of up to four people, has the entire balloon and pilot to yourselves.”
“Wear comfortable clothes, as you would dress for the weather on the day of your flight. Avoid high-heels or flip-flops: you may be walking around in high grass, fields, or rocky terrain depending on where we launch and land. Tennis shoes are best. You might also like to bring a hat, since the burners give off some heat, but it’s not necessary,” Flanagan says.
One woman, Phoebe Brown, who trained as a Phoenix Balloon Flights pilot, described the experience as “the most peaceful, calming experience that I have ever had in my life and I think that is why I love it so much.”
Brown, 28, arrived in Montana from California in 2015 to train with Flanagan.
“There just aren’t very many female pilots in the industry, so it’s cool to see not just a female pilot but a young person so caught up in the magic of flying,” Flanagan said. “It’s really weird how rare it is, because to fly a balloon requires finesse and creativity more than the strength associated with other male-dominated sports.”
Despite her initial fear of heights, Brown has embraced the sport.
“It’s just really rewarding and exciting,” Brown said. “You don’t know where you are going to land, and if you’re taking passengers usually it’s for a birthday, or a bucket list item, or a marriage proposal, so everyone is amped.”