As the famous song from Reinhard Mey goes, “Above the clouds freedom must be boundless…“ – that’s exactly how it feels in a hot air balloon.
Floating silently on the wind to lofty heights and you have the time and opportunity to wonder at the view and savour the experience – for me one the best means of air transport. As organiser of the International Hot Air Balloon Week in Filzmoos I have the privilege to ride in a hot air balloon every now and again.
What’s the procedure for a balloon ride?
First of all a suitable launch site has to the found. There must be plenty of space to set up the balloon and there shouldn’t be any overhead power lines or obstructions in the vicinity. Plus it has to be calm weather otherwise setting up the balloon could be difficult or in the case of strong winds impossible.
Then the hard work begins. The balloon basket is unloaded from the trailer, whereby a number of strong hands are needed. Afterwards the burner with four poles is set on top of the basket, the pipes are connected to the propane gas bottles and other equipment such as transponder, radio equipment, maps, GPS device, helmets and an emergency pack are loaded into the basket.
The balloon pilot tests the burners. The burners function when high flames flare up into the sky. Some of the crew have in the meantime laid out the balloon envelope. The basket is turned on its side and the envelope is connected to the envelope with steel ropes and carabiners.
Then it’s time to inflate the balloon envelope. Air is blown into the envelope using a fan. Two helpers hold the envelope open and slowly the balloon fills up with cold air. As soon as the envelope is filled with the air the pilot starts to heat up the air with the burners. The balloon envelope inflates slowly and the basket uprights, the pilot jumps in and continues to heat up whilst helpers have to keep the basket on the ground. An important job is holding down the envelope using the crown line rope. The crown line, which is connected to the top of the balloon, is approx. 20 to 30 m long and has to be really held tight, so that the balloon doesn’t inflate too quickly – otherwise it can sway excessively and the basket is thrown around.
As soon as the balloon is standing upright, the passengers can climb into the basket. This is, however, not that easy as the basket is quite high and there’s only a small hole in the basket as a foothold. When everyone’s on board, the pilot checks once again if nothing’s been forgotten and then it’s time for take-off. The pilot heats up the envelope with the burner and the balloon climbs slowly up and up, a fascinating experience. Hot air balloons can ascend up to an altitude of approx. 4,000 m. People, houses, trees, cars… get smaller and smaller and you glide gently on the wind. Now and again the silence is interrupted by the sound of the burner, otherwise a wonderful stillness abounds and you can enjoy the fascinating mountain panorama and the splendid view.
Only the wind knows where the journey may lead. A balloon cannot be steered, the pilot can only influence the direction somewhat by ascending or descending.
Join us on a balloon ride:
Today is perfect balloon weather, beautiful sunshine, blue sky and a light breeze. The balloon is already set up and stands motionless on the snow-covered launch site.
We climb into the basket. Peter, our experienced balloon pilot, directs more heat into the balloon using the burner and we start climbing slowly up into the sky to a toast of “soft winds and gentle landings“. Filzmoos seems miniature beneath us. At an altitude of around 3,000 m we slowly hover above the snowy alpine landscape of the Hofalm and Sulzenalm, passing the imposing Bischofsmütze mountain. We can see the peak cross on the Bischofsmütze quite clearly. We carry on over the impressive Gosaukamm range and discover the Vordere and Hintere Gosau Lakes. Above the Gosau Lake we head downwards and enter into a different air layer which pushes us along the valley towards Gosau.
After around 1.5 hours we reach Gosau. Peter looks for a suitable spot to land. He finds an optimal meadow and sets the balloon down in the snow next to the road. He pulls the crown line, the top opens up and the hot air can escape. He says to me: “Jump out of the basket and pull the envelope to the ground using the crown line.“ Easier said than done. First of all, jumping out of the basket is out of the question, I climb out carefully and find myself standing knee-deep in snow. I then take the crown line and fight my way through the deep snow to pull the balloon envelope to the ground.
Done at last – the envelope lies spread out on the ground. Our pilot folds it up – an exhausting task until the envelope is lying there like a long tube.
Now it’s time for everyone to help again to get the envelope into its carrying bag, afterwards we pack up the basket. In the meantime our chase vehicle with balloon trailer has arrived and we can load everything onto the trailer.
Finished, now we’ve earned a “sip“. I’ve brought my hip flask with home-brewed pine schnaps with me – mmmh tasty!
Afterwards we head back to Filzmoos in the chase vehicle. In Filzmoos we sit down for a snack together – and not to be forgotten – one passenger has to be “christened“ . Gerhard, who had his first balloon ride today, has to kneel down whilst Peter lights a tuft of his hair and extinguishes the fire with sparkling wine. After a long saying, which is impossible for me to memorize, Peter explains that everyone riding in a balloon for the first time is given a noble title. Gerhand is christened “The Count of the dizzy-heights Bischofsmütze from and to Gosau“. We toast the new Count with a glass of sparkling wine.
After the christening things get more informal and yet you shouldn’t forget your noble title. You also have to be careful in future to say “ride in balloon” and not “fly in a balloon”. This mistake often happens to inexperienced balloonists. Should you use the wrong term, you have to pay for a round of drinks.
By the way, I’m called the “Countess of Oberwang“. I had my first balloon ride around 30 years ago and we travelled long-distance to Attersee and landed in Oberwang.
Photo credits: Tourismusverband Filzmoos, Werbegams