The Great Reno Balloon Race - Rancho San Rafael 2022

Compiled by Willie Bodenstein. Photos supplied.


Taking place just a few miles north of downtown Reno at Rancho San Rafael Regional Park, the Great Reno Balloon Race is the world's largest free hot-air ballooning event.

During four days in early September, one can look up into the Reno skies and see a rainbow of hot air balloons soaring about.

With an average of 120,000 spectators attending the event each year, the number of lives touched by the beautiful spectacle continues to rise just like the balloons themselves.

From its humble beginnings in 1981 with just 20 balloons, The Great Reno Balloon Race has taken flight with up to 100 balloons each year. The idea was to create an event that would keep visitors in town the weekend between the State Fair and the Reno Air Races and 40 years later, it is known as a world-renowned, and locally, a beloved community tradition.

The mission of The Great Reno Balloon Race is to provide a premier, safe, family-oriented/tourist-attractive, a visually dramatic event that celebrates the joy of flight while remaining free to the public. The Great Reno Balloon Race has won many awards over the years, including 'Best Special Event in Reno' and 'Best Special Event in Northern Nevada.'

Pilots that are invited must have flown a minimum of 100 hours and have met The Great Reno Balloon Race safety standards.
The pilots use wind currents and elevation to control the direction they travel. As pilots ascend or descend into a sea of wind currents that exist in the atmosphere, the balloon takes on different directions. Each morning, pilots are briefed about wind speeds and directions at various "ceilings" or elevation measurements. The pilots use this information along with the forecasted weather changes and the local terrain as navigational tools. When it comes to ballooning, there is much more than meets the eye!

One of the most spectacular shows over the three-day event in the Great Reno Balloon Race is Dawn Patrol. A term patented by the board of trustees when Federal Aviation officials approved predawn flying regulations in 1978. Safety precautions such as special navigation lights became the status quo, and The Great Reno Balloon Race quickly became a national role model for pre-dawn events in 1990 when it began launching balloons before sunrise.

During Dawn Patrol, pilots face unstable, pre-dawn, air conditions as their balloons illuminate the early morning darkness. Adding warmth to the cool morning, Dawn Patrol marks the beginning of the Balloon Race.

After eight years of the Dawn Patrol, yet another attraction was added to thrill onlookers as they waited for the show to begin. Just before Dawn Patrol, pilots light their lanterns for the Glow Show. The balloons take on an almost fictional appearance, not unlike a paper lantern which marks the beginning of the Balloon Race.

The Hare and Hound Competition
The three-day event begins with the Hare and Hound Competition, a ballooning event in which two balloons act as the "hares" while the 100 or so other balloons follow the leaders as the "hounds." Modelled after the traditional English sport of freeing a rabbit, giving it a head-start, then releasing a pack of canines to hunt it down, the ballooning competition is less dire for the hare.

The E.L. Cord Tissue Paper Hot Air Balloon Launch
The Great Reno Balloon Race Tissue Paper Balloon Launch, a Washoe County School District and Balloon Race tradition since 1999, is a sight to see. On Thursday and Friday of the Balloon Race, over 1,000 students release their colourful, hand-made, model hot air balloons off Bunsen burners.

Balloon Blackjack
Another popular event at The Great Reno Balloon Races is Balloon Blackjack. This event, implemented at the Balloon Race in 1999, gives the pilots a taste of the Reno gaming experience in an airborne blackjack tournament. The pilots compete for prizes such as complimentary weekends and meals at many of the area's best casinos.

For us South Africans this may just be the ideal opportunity to combine a visit to the Still National Air Races at Reno with this truly spectacular event!

Hot Air Ballooning

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