First things first: if you're travelling in a hot air balloon, you're not flying - you're riding. Is this because the huge, colourful hot air balloons glide calmly through the air and are far removed from the hectic speed of flying? If you want to experience this feeling and admire the mountains around Zell am See-Kaprun from a completely new perspective, then are the "balloonalps" winter balloon weeks from 3 to 11 February 2024 definitely the best opportunity to do so!
Ballooning in winter sounds rather icy cold at first. But it is precisely the low winter temperatures that are ideal for travelling long distances in a passenger hot air balloon. The difference in temperature between the hot air in the balloon and the cold ambient air makes winter the ideal season for longer rides.
Wearing warm clothes is of course still a must: This we found out on a ride with Peter Flaggl, hot air pilot with years of experience and organiser of the "balloonalps". We were given the opportunity to take off with him during the previous balloon weeks. The most important item of clothing for the ride is a pair of warm shoes, as it gets very cold in the lower part of the basket - especially on winter rides. The upper body is kept warm nicely by the burner, which also heats the air inside the balloon.
Just how big such a balloon really is can be seen when it is still spread out on the ground - completely uninflated: The balloon alone is almost 30 metres long. First, cold air is blown into the balloon, which is then heated with the burner. The balloon slowly inflates and rises. The ride can begin when the air inside has reached around 100° C.
Daily rides by hot air balloon
During the Balloonalps, you can take part in various rides as a passenger every day. One highlight is definitely the Alpine balloon ride, where you ascend to over 3,000 metres and enjoy a phenomenal view. You will be up in the air for around two to three hours.
You can also book a ride through the valleys as an alternative: The valley winds carry you into the valleys around Zell am See-Kaprun. The balloon keeps you below the level of the mountain ridge, and the ride takes about an hour.
Across the Alps in a balloon
Our hot air balloon ride took us to the nearby Gastein Valley. We even ascended to an altitude of around 3,500 metres, and the winds at this height propelled us further. By the way: you are mistaken if you think that steering a balloon is not possible. Although there is no steering wheel or joystick, professionals like Peter Flaggl know exactly which winds are waiting at what altitude. This makes it possible to calculate the exact route and destination of the ride. However, this requires a lot of experience as well as excellent knowledge of the weather and precise weather forecasts. Peter told us that on good days, an altitude of up to 5,000 metres can be reached - this is where you encounter the strongest winds, and you can even manage a crossing of the Alps.
Sightseeing of a special kind
We may not have conquered the mighty Alps with our balloon, but we will remember the flight fondly for a long time to come: We reached our cruising altitude after a steady, calm ascent, during which only the whistling of the burner could be heard, and a brief circuit over Zell am See and the airfield. The balloon's slow cruising speed was perfect for seeing the sights that now were waiting for us: we travelled leisurely past snow-covered peaks and flanks without getting too close to the mountain ridges and slopes - and thus avoiding possible turbulence.
After landing in the Gastein Valley (Peter also showed his talent here and skilfully positioned the basket!), we were allowed to help pack up. On all rides, the hot air balloon is supported on the ground by an escort vehicle that comes to the landing site with a trailer.
Baptism with sparkling wine at the end
The highlight of every balloonalps ride is the balloon baptism: a ritual that is always celebrated enthusiastically among balloonists. After the baptism with sparkling wine and being presented with a signed and sealed certificate, we can now call ourselves "chevaliers of the air, travelling high above the Tauern".
What an adventure!
Would you like to take part in a balloon ride followed by a baptism? Here you will find all information about the balloonalps in February 2024.