21 Questions About Your First Hot Air Balloon Ride

Oregon, Travel, United States

Recently, as part of my trip to the Willamette Valley, I had the opportunity to ride in a hot air balloon. Living in Snohomish, I’ve seen them flying over the nearby fields (and even directly over our house) but I’ve never actually had the opportunity to ride in a hot air balloon. So of course I jumped when the moment presented itself! We rode with Vista Balloon and they did an excellent job. If you ever find yourself visiting the Willamette Valley area, I fully recommend spending your morning up in the air!
Before I actually went up in a balloon, I realized that I had never done something like this and I therefore had a bunch of questions.  If you’re going up in a hot air balloon for the first time (or even considering it), I’m sure you have questions as well. To help answer your question, I’ve put together a list of common questions that I received about the ride. Let me know if you have any questions about the ride that I didn’t answer!

1. How high does the hot air balloon go? The balloon will likely keep an altitude of 1,000 – 3,000 feet above the ground. They can go higher or lower, but that’s the average.
2. Is it cold up there? We went on a crisp fall morning, so it was chilly, but the flame is surprisingly warm! I would recommend dressing in layers and bringing a scarf, hat, and gloves.
3. What should I wear? You can wear whatever you like, but you will be climbing in and out of the basket (there’s no door!), so make sure you’re able to easily climb in and out with whatever you decide to wear.
4. Is the flame really hot? If you’re standing directly beneath the flame it does get rather warm!
5. Do you have to help inflate and deflate the balloon? You don’t have to help inflate the ballon, but they will ask for at least two volunteers to help inflate the balloon. I volunteered to help inflate the balloon (pro tip: put your hair up if you volunteer). I was given a pair of gloves and a heavy mat was put on the downside of the balloon, which I was told to keep at least one foot on at all times. They will aim giant fans into the balloon that will help to fill the balloon with air. The fans are powerful and it is windy! It’s not scary to help inflate the balloon, but it is a bit disconcerting at times because the wind is so powerful and you are trying to keep a hold of the balloon while it’s trying to get away from you!

It’s all hands on deck for deflating the balloon! Once it lands, each person climbs out one at a time. Once you climb out, you have to put all your weigh on the basket to keep it from drifting off again. Once enough air has escaped the balloon and the basket is on its side again, the balloon is detached and you start to fold it over and push out the air from it. Each person helps at various points along the balloon. It’s actually super fun! Once the balloon is folded up, it gets squished back inside a giant bag!

6. Why doesn’t the balloon catch on fire?  Most of the heat inside of a hot air balloon is concentrated right around the mouth of the balloon as well as at the very top of the balloon (where the flame fires up at).  To keep these parts of the balloon from catching on fire, flame resistant fabric (such as Nomex, think firefighter suit) is used.
7. Why do we go so early?  That’s when the air currents are most stable.  During the middle of the day, there is a lot of unstable air as the earth heats and cools unevenly, making for dangerous conditions in the balloon.
8. How do they make it go up and down? Hot air inside of the balloon causes it to rise, as the density of the hot air is less than the density of the air surrounding the balloon, resulting in the balloon being pushed up.  Once the air inside of the balloon cools, the densities level out and gravity starts taking over again and the balloon starts to fall.

9. Can they steer it?  They can’t steer the balloon except to gradually go up or down. An experienced pilot will be able to read the wind patterns above and below the balloon to try and have the wind blow the balloon in a certain direction. (Our pilots actually dropped shaving cream from the balloon to see the wind below.)
10. How many people fit in a basket? Baskets typically hold 2-10 people. The capacity is based on weight and size of the balloon and basket.

11. Is it quiet up there? It is incredibly peaceful and quiet! You will hear the blasts of the flame but that’s pretty much it!
12. How does it land? It lands very carefully! There is a chance that the basket will bounce on landing, but it will hopefully just be a gentle bump.

13. What happens if it doesn’t land in the right spot? There isn’t one specific spot to land; the pilot will find a good place to land based on what direction you are going.
14. How long does the ride last? Our ride with Vista Balloon lasted about an hour.
15. Is it scary? It’s not scary at all! You won’t feel like you’re going to fall out.
16. Would it be good for children? The experience would be fine for adventurous pre-teens and teenagers. You’ll need to check with your hot air balloon operator for specifics on height and age minimums.

17. Do you land where you take off from? You will land in a different area than where you take off from. Your hot air balloon pilot will find a safe landing area and then the ground team will drive the van to where you land and help with the deflation and loading up of the balloon and basket onto the trailer. You’ll ride back to the take-off zone with your group and balloon and basket in tow!
18. What should I look for in a hot air balloon company? Make sure you select an experienced hot air balloon company. You can ask about what licenses they have, what size balloons they have and how old they are, and how often they take visitors out.
19. How much does it cost?  It usually costs about $100-200 per person.
20. Is there anything else I should bring? All you need is your camera!
21. Where’s the best place to go for a ride? You can go almost anywhere that balloon rides are offered! Your pilot will take you out away from restricted flight zones and I guarantee that anywhere you go will be amazing from above!

Created in partnership with Oregon Wine Country, Travel Oregon & Vista Balloon

Ashley Cook Photography