The word Vail is almost synonymous with skiing, but there are several year-round activities that offer the same rush as a run down a black diamond. Hot air ballooning offers an alternate ride with a similar adrenaline rush. Consider flying above the mountains in nothing but a wicker basket controlled by unpredictable winds, a ball of fire and a guy named Merlin.
You don’t have to know a wizard to take a ride in a hot air balloon, but you’re in for a great morning if you take a flight with Merlin of Camelot Balloons, the oldest locally operating full time hot air ballooning company in the area. For 20 years Camelot has been providing year round flights to visitors in Beaver Creek, Vail and Bachelor Gulch.
Smell the fresh mountain air as you watch the morning sun stretch across the Rockies. Listen to the roar of the flame from the burner contrast with the peaceful silence you will hear at 1000 feet. As one guest described you will feel “weightless, timeless, free.”
Relax and enjoy the view, or for the more curious flier your FAA certified pilot can teach you the basics of hot air ballooning and even let you take-the-wheel by manning the burner during the flight. In your search for the elevation with the best winds to carry the gondola you may also descend and brush gracefully along the tree tops. Then experience the thrill of the chase as the ground crew races to reach the landing site before the balloon touches down.
The Taste of Ballooning offers a hot beverage during inflation and a post flight ceremony including a certificate of completion and the traditional champagne toast. The Full Hot Air Ballooning Excursion also offers a post-flight picnic with your pilot and the chase crew. You’ll learn the balloonist’s prayer, experience more hot air ballooning traditions and hear stories from some entertaining characters in Merlin’s crew.
What to Bring: Leave those ruby slippers behind Dorothy. Heeled and open toed shoes are not allowed in the gondola. Prepare for the cold in the early morning and dress in layers. You’ll warm up when you feel the heat from the burner. Don’t forget your camera and sunglasses but obviously travel light. You won’t find any overhead compartments on this flight.
When: Flights begin shortly after sunrise since the wind is calmest when the sun is low in the sky. Each flight is unique and weather dependent, but try to allow at least 3 1/2 hours for the entire excursion
Full Excursion: Flight time is weather dependent but the pilot will make the flight as long as possible (60 minutes minimum – 75 minutes average). Adults $275.00. Children (6 to 12) and Seniors (65+) $225.00. Balloons range in size from 4-8 guests. Larger groups can be accommodated with advance notice.
Taste of Ballooning: Flight time will be 30-40 minutes. All Ages $190.00
How to Get There: From Vail, Beaver Creek or Avon take I-70 west to exit 147-Eagle. Turn left off the exit and cross over I-70. Turn right at the traffic circle just after I-70. Then follow signs to the Eagle County Regional Airport. Follow Hwy 6 for 3.4 miles to Cooley Mesa Road. Turn left at Cooley Mesa Road and continue 1.1miles. Turn left on Buckhorn Valley. Continue .6 of a mile and turn right to the balloon launch field. No car? No problem. Transportation can be provided from the Vail and Beaver Creek for $25.
Camelot Balloons, Inc. P.O. Box 1896, Vail, Colorado 81658, Telephone: (800) 785-4743 Fax: (970) 328-2291.
To find balloon rides in other areas visit http://www.hotairballooning.com/balloon-rides/.