Up, Up and Away! 4

Taking The Aerial Perspective with Asheville Hot Air Balloons

Hot air ballooning brings to mind a sense of playfulness, daring and adventure, and even after running the business for thirty years, the crew at Asheville Hot Air Balloons still marvel at the thrill. Co-owner Rick Bowers has loved flight his entire life: after taking his first ride at age five, he jumped at the chance to turn his passion into his life’s work. Though he and all of his crew members are aviation junkies, they agree that the best part of the sport is offering others a glimpse into exactly what makes it all so magical.

A ride with Asheville Hot Air Balloons begins early in the morning: trips take off once a day, during the calm air of sunrise. Guests gather at Rejavanation Cafe before heading out to the departure site, where a pilot guides them over the majestic Smoky Mountains for an hour. Those curious about ballooning mechanics will find staff are quick to offer information about how it works. Rick expertly describes that balloons can’t be “steered” as you would steer a car, but that pilots make the balloons ascend or descend to follow a specific current of wind. “Picture the wind blowing in different layers,” he says. “It may be blowing in different directions at different altitudes. The way you ‘steer’ is to climb or descend into a different wind directionally.” And after thirty years of navigating around the Smokies, the crew have a second sense for where to find the smoothest landing spot given the direction of the wind each day.

In fact, a ride with Asheville Hot Air Balloons is as safe as they come. Throughout their decades of flying, their safety history is absolutely spotless, with nary a single incident on their record. “My crew are seasoned professionals who are expertly trained,” Rick says. All of their pilots have at least ten years’ flying experience, and they strongly emphasize conservative decisions about flight paths and weather. All hot air balloon pilots must be commercially licensed with the FAA, but Asheville Hot Air Balloons’ crew is unmatched in their experience.

They’re second-to-none in terms of hospitality, as well. Rick raves about their enthusiasm for giving guests a truly unforgettable adventure. Their profession is driven by a love of the sport, he notes, but even more than that, “I’m so impressed with how committed they are to making this a really great experience for everybody who takes this trip.”  One of their most well-loved crew members, the appropriately-named Chief Eagle, is a former Air Force member who oversees the ROTC program at a local high school. When he’s not flying balloons, Chief Eagle is teaching teenagers about aviation. “He was instrumental in setting this program up with the school,” Rick says. “And we’ve mentored some cadets right out of his program.” Watching Chief Eagle’s former students grow up to become aviators themselves has been immensely rewarding for everybody at the company.

The crew is also highly attuned to the specific interests of their customers, giving expert attention to special events. Of course, a hot air balloon ride makes for an oh-so-romantic engagement, and the team has plenty of marriage-proposal experience to help grooms-to-be make the most of the special moment. All private couples’ flights include a champagne toast at the end, and they offer special decorations and accoutrements to highlight the rare moment. They also offer wedding packages, and are able to accommodate parties of up to twenty-eight passengers tethered together in three or four balloons for a fully in-flight wedding.

Located only minutes from the city, a ride with Asheville Hot Air Balloons is one of the most enchanting experiences of the mountains; the sheer elation that it offers is in a class all its own. And after so many years, Rick and his crew still love seeing the look on their guests’ faces when they rise into the sky. “For some,” he says, “it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This is on their bucket list.” Indeed, for those excited about Asheville’s outdoors, there’s nothing quite like a hot air balloon ride. We’re lucky to have such passionate aviators to take us along on the journey.