Helen to the Atlantic Balloon Race

Helen to the Atlantic Balloon Race
Photo: helenballoon.com
A small city of Helen, Georgia is a replica of a Bavarian alpine town located in the Appalachians. Tourism is the main industry in Helen so the city hosts many festivals and events throughout the year to attract more tourists. One of the most well-known is Helen to the Atlantic Balloon Race that takes place on the first weekend of June.

Founded in 1974, Helen to the Atlantic Balloon Race & Festival is the oldest hot air balloon event in the South and the only long distance balloon race in the United States. The event was created by Pete Hodkinson. Its host, headquarters and major sponsor and organizer is the Helendorf River Inn.

Many hot air balloon festivals host balloon races, but those races are mostly short distance ones. At Helen to the Atlantic Balloon Race, participants are expected to cover the distance of at least 225 miles from Helen to Interstate 95 (anywhere between Maine and Miami). Ballooning is a weather-dependent activity so the race might take between one and four days depending on the wind and other factors.

The cross country race typically involves six to ten balloons. It’s a serious challenge to the skills of the participating pilots and their respective crews. A balloon can only go the same direction and speed as the wind, so the main task of the pilot is to find the altitude which gives them the best direction and speed to cross the finish line. But the crew matters as well because the balloons have to land approximately every 4 hours to refuel. The sooner the crew helps refuel, the less valuable time the pilot loses during each landing.

While the race to the Atlantic continues, about 25 pilots participate in local flying events that take place in Helen. There are mass ascensions, tethered balloon rides available to the public and exciting champagne balloon fights over the mountains. Champagne flights are quite expensive but they are worth every penny because they give a unique opportunity to see the mountains, national forest and state parks that surround Helen from a bird’s eye view.

Helen to the Atlantic Balloon Race

Photo: Robert Elzey




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