Ravalli County Coverage

Jul 6, 2012 9:38 PM by Dennis Bragg - KPAX News

Ballooning the Bitterroot great for 1st time aerialists

STEVENSVILLE- For people making their first balloon flights in the Bitterroot on Friday, ballooning is certainly something to lift spirits.

With the roar of fans, and the blast of gas-fired burners, this otherwise tranquil sport got off to a blusterous start in Stevensville as the first official event of this year's Summerfest.

It's a sport for early risers, since these balloonists, who come from all over the Northwest, need to take advantage of the calm, still air of the morning hours.

Ballooning has become increasing popular in the West over the past 10 or 15 years. It's still a fairly recent arrival in the Bitterroot, but word is getting out. Every ride this weekend is already booked, at the price of $200 per basket.

First-time balloonist Barbara Hettinger said this spring she took a helicopter trip and parasailed in Hawaii. "So this was just the next step," she said. "My grandson says the next one is he and I will jump out of an airplane.

After half an hour of hustle and bustle, the balloons lift off on their journey, rising to a few hundred feet up the valley and from that vantage point, balloonists can see the best of the Bitterroot.

Another first-time flier, Rosie Dawkins, said she saw a bunch of deer. "It was peaceful. It was pretty," Dawkins said. "You see parts that you don't when you're driving along the highway at 70 miles an hour. You see things you didn't know were out there."

Hettinger agreed that it's less about a big thrill. "It's just peaceful, like you said. When you get out here away from the road, it's quiet."

Even viewing the balloons from the ground, set against the mountain backdrop, is a treat for photographers and people back on terra firma.

But should you someday take to the air, it can be the experience of a lifetime.

Dawkins said she'd recommend it. "To everybody. Everybody. I'm not crossing it off my bucket list. I'm putting it back on for next year," she said.

The balloons are scheduled to do a special "dusk flight" this evening, plus flights both Saturday and Sunday morning, launching from the Summerfest grounds adjacent to the St. Mary's Mission.

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