While countless others pursued typical Easter weekend activities – egg hunts, family gatherings, church services, and/or drinking an irresponsible(?) number of mimosas at brunch – "Snapshot"explored an overall much more uplifting tradition, one that relatively few get to experience.
"Statistically, I think they say it's less than one percent of one percent of the population that's ever been around, in, crewed for, or flown in a balloon," says Martin Philpott, a 30-year hot air balloon pilot with Bixby, Okla.-based Ultramagic Balloons and a fourth-year participant in Horseshoe Bay Resort's annual Easter weekend balloon festival. The fest celebrated çits sixth edition March 30-31 with several thousand participants (the majority from Austin, according to organizers) enjoying food, live music, balloon demos, and other activities at its 7-acre Hill Country ranch. Conversations with festivalgoers revealed a deep-rooted subculture – a fairly uncommon one in Central Texas but gaining momentum each year – that generates impact beyond mere spectacle.
The aerial view during a brief Friday sunrise flight in Ultramagic’s flagship balloon Auspicious: "From the time you get around a balloon, you stop thinking about the other things in your life," muses Philpott. "Probably the simplest thing to say is, it's like Christmas – you're giving someone a gift every time you do it and it's a bright point in your life that you'll always remember."
Philpott offers some fascinating in-flight facts: "Each balloon contains 120,000 cubic feet of air when inflated, which is three to five tons of air depending on humidity," he says. "The inertia of that air will pull you. If you're doing 15 miles per hour – we're doing about 10 right now – well hell, give me a football field to land because we're gonna go for a ways."
Forty-year balloonist John Cavin of Florida-based Cartoon Balloons, seen here with Rocket the Flying Squirrel, adds perspective on balloons' universal and enduring appeal: "I've flown people who get excited about it, ask how they can get involved and come back to help the next week, and before you know it, they're a balloon pilot," he says. "I've been doing this more than 20 years with some balloons, so I have 25-year-old guys come up to me and go, 'I saw this balloon when I was 5 years old and now I brought my kids to see it.'"
Matt and Rachel Scoggins of San Antonio weigh in on the event's benefit, particularly for younger children like their 2-year-old son Levin, during Saturday evening's tethered glow: "People aren't just sitting here on Facebook on their phones, so I think it's really cool that this can get people outside and back to their roots, especially for someone Levin's age," says Rachel. "He's obsessed with photos of balloons in his books, and I think everything's bigger when you're his size, so the concept of how it looks in person will hopefully inspire him in some way."
Due to high winds, balloonists forgo an inflated glow finale for a fiery "candlestick burn," which still evokes the desired effect. Resort rep Bryan Woodward says: "It's just escape. We're literally an hour away from Downtown, but you feel like you're 300 miles away. We're not watching TV or consumed by something else – we're just listening to music, talking to people, our eyes are up, not down on our phones ... and I think it can be just as simple as that: People wanna connect with each other, and this is a conduit to do that."
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