ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The 50th Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta will kick off its first events on Friday, followed by the start of big crowds at Balloon Fiesta Park on Saturday. In all, ten days of events will stretch from September 30 through October 9.
From world record setting attempts to parking lot changes that may help people find their car, Balloon Fiesta organizers detailed some of the new and modified elements visitors can expect year during a news conference Monday. In part, organizers are expecting the most balloons at this year’s event compared to any other Fiesta event in more than a decade.
Opening day on Saturday, October 1 should be one of the most memorable for Fiesta, as roughly 648 balloons as expected to launch for the first Mass Ascension event. Among those balloons, roughly 20 new special shapes will be part of the crowd of roughly 120 total special shapes.
The opening ceremonies are expected to be “quite spectacular,” according to Balloon Fiesta’s Operations Director Sam Parks. Before Dawn Patrol takes off at 6 a.m., Parks says there will be a special aerial demonstration in the dark that you “won’t want to miss.”
“With good weather, we should be fine,” Parks said. “We’ve got 21 different countries that are going to be represented here.”
World Record Attempts
Fiesta will attempt to set a couple new world records on Sunday, October 2. The first attempt will take place in the morning, with remote controlled balloons.
Around 82 of those RC balloons are expected to be at this year’s Fiesta. Pilots of the RC balloons are expected to attempt to break the world record for the “greatest number of RC balloons flying at any given time.” The current record is 55.
On Sunday night, Fiesta will attempt to set a new world record during the Balloon Glow event. Organizers will attempt to achieve the “greatest number of hot air balloons in a glow.”
Friday Events & New Sky Boxes
Before crowds take to the fields on Saturday, October 1, Fiesta will hold a 50th anniversary special event at Coronado Center in Uptown Albuquerque on Friday, September 30. That’s where relatives and representatives of Fiesta’s 13 founding pilots are expected to place part in a reenactment of the original Balloon Fiesta flight.
That event is expected to take place around 7 a.m. Friday, September 30, coinciding with the “Albuquerque Aloft” balloon flights at surrounding Albuquerque and Rio Rancho elementary schools. This year, Albuquerque Aloft is expected to see more than 200 pilots participating at more than 100 schools.
A new “sky box” VIP experience is also expected at the field, with the debut of special shipping container structures meant to give viewers some height over the crowds on the field. According to Fiesta, the sky box experience runs $5,000 per session, with room between 1 and 20 guests. Skybox users get park admission, parking passes, “luxury restrooms,” a host bar and food amid the experience.
To help with parking, the City of Albuquerque has paved a parking lot on the far north of the park property. That lot, now referred to as Bugs Bunny, can now hold up to 500 cars, according to city officials. Last year, that lot was used at “a limited capacity.”
“The city’s put a lot of efforts into making that field up there at the northern end more accessible,” Parks said. “So in order to park in that location, you have to come down Balloon Fiesta Parkway and then turn to the north into the lot.”
Each of the parking lots is now named after various Looney Tunes characters. Fiesta officials say while you won’t be able to choose a favorite character lot when you enter the park, they hope the new names and signs will help people remember where they left their car.
For those interested in the park and ride shuttle to and from Fiesta, there’s a new “park and ride depot” in a paved area “at the top of the hill.” That will provided service from Cottonwood Mall.
For those who want to get in a morning workout and beat the traffic, bike valet is also still available for cyclists who want to park their bike at Fiesta in 2022. Cyclists who ride the North Diversion Channel trail can ride the path all the way to the south end of Balloon Fiesta Park. Staffed by volunteers, valet bike parking is considered a free, courtesy service.
An added bonus for cyclists: the city of Albuquerque has been fixing up trail cracks along the North Diversion Channel Trail for the last several weeks. New equipment purchased by the city has made the work easier and faster.
Music Fiesta Returns!
Music Fiesta will also return on the second Saturday of Balloon Fiesta, October 8. Country music artist Cole Swindell will headline the concert on Saturday. Swindell’s recent single “She Had Me At Heads Carolina,” which was released in June 2022, is among the best chart-performing country songs of the year. He’ll perform at 4 p.m.
Opening for Swindell will be Restless Road at 1 p.m. and Lainey Wilson at 2:30 p.m. Wilson appears on a song titled “Never Say Never” with Cole Swindell.