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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Utah chapter.

This past weekend, I had the unique opportunity to be a member of a hot air balloon chase crew. For those of you who are unfamiliar with hot balloon chasing–this is not an individual sport, and it takes a well-instructed crew to have a good and successful flight. Being a part of this crew meant that I had to help the pilot and owner of the balloon, Bill, prepare, set up their ballon and equipment, make the balloon take off, chase it to a location where the wind carries it and the pilot feels safe landing, and put the balloon and equipment away. The entire lifestyle of these hot air balloon owners and pilots is truly fascinating. There are so many things that could go wrong and prevent the crew from taking off, but when it all goes right, it is one of the most breathtaking things to watch and experience on this planet. The balloons are delicate and fragile, but at the same time, they are incredibly durable, and have a presence that demands the attention of anyone in the area. Being a member of this crew and this incredible experience taught me many things; the entire life surrounding ballooning is also breathtaking, so be prepared to see many pictures of balloons and the sky. 



A hot air balloon chase crew has a very important task at hand: they are in charge of sending four people high into the sky in a small basket. As a part of the crew, you have to wake up before the sun to reach your location at the optimal time for flight. When you arrive at the location (Sand Hollow Resort, St George, UT in my case), you assemble with the rest of the pilots and their crews at the Pilots Meeting. At this meeting, the Balloon Maister (or pilot who has volunteered to be in charge of the event) will inform everyone of the expected weather, optimal flight time and duration, launching and landing locations, and they will then release a helium balloon (or pibal) to see what the wind conditions are like further up in the atmosphere. After this (assuming the pibal flew smoothly and did not take off in a quick and unexpected direction), it is time for the real work to begin.


Depending on the area in which your pilot decides to take off, you and the rest of the chase crew must lay out a tarp (so the envelope, or actual balloon, does not get torn or punctured). Then the basket is laid on its side, where the balloon is attached and then prepared for cold inflation, a process in which the balloon is simultaneously removed from its storage bag, and inflated with cold air. Then the crew divides off into teams: two strong people to hold the rope that will prevent the balloon from inflating in an uncontrollable way, the people responsible for velcroing the crown (or top of the balloon) onto the rest of the envelope, and the people responsible for making sure the cold inflation process goes smoothly. After the balloon is fully inflated with cold air, and still partially laying on the ground, the pilot will use a very loud and intimidating burner to fill the balloon with hot air so that it may rise from the ground. Once the cold air has been displaced with hot air, the passengers climb in, and the crew gets ready to chase.


We all climb into two main vehicles and follow whatever direction the balloon is going. This often includes many obstacles and other people, as everyone is trying to chase their balloon at the same time. Once you get close to your balloon, and the pilot starts to let the balloon sink, we park the car and all rush out to take pictures, before grabbing the balloon, and guiding it to a place that will be optimal for both landing, and the process of putting everything back into the trailer. This is a pretty physically demanding step in the balloon chase experience, as we all have to get a surprisingly heavy balloon envelope into a seemingly impossibly small bag. Once the bag has been milked (squeezed and rid of all of its air) we take turns dropping our portion of the balloon into the bag, then we change our focus to the basket. This basket is much smaller than you would imagine, but it weighs a lot ,and is even a challenge for six grown men to lift onto the back of a trailer. After everything has been put away and the crew is now feeling both accomplished and tired, it is time to watch the others as they continue to fly and put their balloons away. Overall, being a chase crew member is a very exciting and enjoyable experience, and it is incredible to be a part of this elite and free-spirited lifestyle.


The balloon that I assisted in Sand Hollow is called Tequila Sunrise, and it is a breathtaking structure owned by two incredibly kind and unique people. Jan and Bill Howes are two St Georgians who lead awesome lives. They live in a beautiful part of Southern Utah, get to travel all over the state for balloon festivals, and spend most of their weekends enjoying nature and taking part in an activity that most people dream of. Their balloon is red, yellow, and orange, much like a tequila sunrise, and can be seen at hot air balloon events all over Utah. The lifestyle that these hot air ballooners take on is truly spectacular. They are so connected with nature and the lives around them, and they get to experience it in a way that most people envy. Bill and Jan actually take people up with them a lot of the time, and their motto is “We don’t fill our pockets, we fulfill dreams.” They are all about making people’s’ lives better and helping them cross things off their bucket list. Bill, the pilot has witnessed countless proposals in Tequila Sunrise, and he loves that he gets to elevate people’s lives for a living (both literally and metaphorically). Watching the entire ballooning process and the lives that Jan and Bill lead makes you feel very optimistic and wondrous about life and the beautiful things it holds. 


In many ways, the entire process of hot air ballooning taught me many life lessons and became a metaphor of the ups and downs of being human. Through the whole ballooning process, if one thing goes wrong, that means the experience is over, and this really teaches you to just accept the punches that come at you. For the festival that occurred in Mesquite, NV a few weeks ago, we had problems with weather that caused us to not be able to launch, and instead of being upset that we had woken up early and drove a long way, the rest of the crew and I just watched the other balloons take off, planned more things to do for the rest of the day, and had an absolute blast. Also, in a hot air balloon, you never really know how long you are going to be in the sky, where you are going to end up, and what might happen along the way, and this is very true about life. Nobody really knows where they are going in life. We might be able to guess based on where the others before us have gone, but if something shifts in our lives, or the wind, we could be taken on an entirely new and unexpected journey. Something might also go wrong while we are on our journey, and this can seem like the worst possible thing to happen, but odds are, that we will be in the sky again someday soon.


Two of the most important lessons that ballooning taught me are, everybody needs help in life to get where they want to go, and life is truly awesome. Even though Bill and Jan have over twenty-five years of experience ballooning, they still needed the help of my family and I to get them off the ground. If we had not shown up, they might have gotten to go on their journey, but only if they got assistance from others. I also learned that life is truly awesome. I had never seen a hot air balloon so close or experienced the process of making one fly before I was given this opportunity. They truly are breathtaking to look at, and if you ever get to see one, you can see people all over the place pulling over to the side of the road to watch it float. They seriously are a wonder that captures the eye of everyone that encounters them. Even Bill and Jan are still mesmerized by them. I hope one day I will be lucky enough to be a passenger of Tequila Sunrise, but for now, I am more than happy being a part of her crew. I hope you all get to experience the life of a ballooner someday and look out for Tequila sunrise at any ballooning event you encounter. If you are looking for events, they are all over Utah this year, and I highly recommend that you go to as many as you can. They are wonderful experiences that you will never forget. 


After we completed our day of ballooning, Bill pulled us all aside and recited a prayer that he tells to all of his passengers that get to experience the power of Tequila Sunrise:

“The Winds have welcomed you with softness. The Sun has blessed you with its warm hands. You have flown so high, and so well. That God has joined you in your laughter. And set you gently back again into the loving arms of Mother Earth.”




Photo Sources: Mariah Iverson, Brady Iverson

Ry Iverson is a transgender sociology alum of the University of Utah. He grew up in Apple Valley, California and moved to Utah to be closer to family. He enjoys listening to music, reading, cooking, drawing, traveling, and helping others. He enjoys writing about his favorite TV shows, cooking, LGBTQ experiences, and advice, and in his free time he can be found laying on the ground outside taking in the world. Enjoy Ry's articles and everything he has to offer!
Her Campus Utah Chapter Contributor