Balloonists fired their burners and soared into the sky above Albuquerque one last time Sunday as part of this year’s Balloon Fiesta – capping a nine-day run of good weather.
It was the first time in two years that each morning of the fiesta featured balloon launches.
“This is so awesome,” said Mary Hunter, a visitor from Woodward, Okla., where she and her husband, Tom, own an appliance and electronics store. “Your eyes never get tired of looking.”
This year was the Hunters’ first trip to the fiesta.
Final attendance figures aren’t available yet, but no day this year was entirely washed out. Some vendors said the cloudy weather discouraged people from showing up early – and staying as late – on a few days, though they had few serious complaints otherwise.
“I think for the most part, the crowds were amazing,” said Carlos Romero of Chavez New Mexican Foods, which he co-owns with his wife, Stephanie. “The event itself was a success.”
Kiristie Flores, who was selling toys to families walking to the launch field, said the 2015 fiesta was much better than last year, when wind and rain forced the cancellation of some evening events and the farewell mass ascension.
“There were some slow days, but they were not like last year,” she said.
The weather was generally warm and pleasant this year. But pilots reported some odd conditions, too, including a day with cyclone-like winds at some elevations.
Most balloonists say “this is the most difficult balloon-flying weather we’ve ever had,” said Roger Hoppe, an electrical engineer and pilot who has been flying over 40 years.
The winds forced the cancellation of some competitive flying, but Hoppe said early Sunday morning that he had made it up every day but one.
The flying was challenging on Sunday, too. Winds were calm at the surface but stronger at higher altitudes, especially later in the morning.
The farewell mass ascension went off as planned. Some pilots, however, opted to inflate their balloons on the field but not take off.
Regardless, everyone seemed happy with the flying they got in during the week.
“It’s gone exceptionally well,” said John Green, who pilots “The Aftermath II” balloon.
One weather-related disappointment earlier in the week was the cancellation of the America’s Challenge Gas Balloon Race – a competition in which whoever flies the farthest wins. Last year’s winner, a team from Spain, made it to Kentucky during a 53-hour, 1,189-mile flight.
It was just the second cancellation in 20 years.
Paul Smith, executive director of the Balloon Fiesta, said there were a couple of “incidents” but no flight-related injuries this year. Pilots had more-detailed information this year on wind patterns thanks to a new radar system provided by the city and state, he said.
The fiesta itself, he said, enjoyed strong crowds.
“It’s always nice to be able to fly everyday,” Smith said.
The fiesta started in 1972. Albuquerque is known as a hospitable place for ballooning because of a predictable wind pattern known as “the box,” in which the wind moves in different directions at different altitudes.
Nearly 560 balloons registered for this year’s event, including 100 special shapes.