Largest Free Hot Air Balloon Festival Returns to Reno

Posted by Brooke Sullivan on Thursday, September 6th, 2018 at 10:19am

The world’s largest free hot-air balloon festival makes its return to the Rancho San Rafael Regional Park this weekend.

In 1982, just 20 hot-air balloons took flight at the Great Reno Balloon Race. Now, close to 100 balloons will lift off on September 7 – 9. Spectators are clad in pajamas, wrapped in blankets and clutching hot beverages as they gaze into the sky for the Glow Show that takes place at dawn. Shortly after, some will rise for Dawn Patrol and then the rest follow later at Mass Ascension. Skill and consistency are the keys to a victory and a piece of the $11,000 prize.

The mission of the GRBR is to provide a premier, safe and family oriented event that is visually dramatic and celebrates the joy of flight while remaining free to the public. The original idea for the event was to attract tourists to town in between the State Fair and the Reno Championship Air Races. After 35 years successful year, it is a world-renowned and locally loved tradition. The Balloon Race has won many awards over the years including “Best Special Event in Reno” and “Best Special Event in Northern Nevada”. With an average of 120,000 spectators attending each year, the number of lives touched continues to rise just like the balloons.

Here are some stand-out moments in GRBR History:

1998: Addition of the Glow Show, which was added to offer spectators an attraction as they wait for Dawn Patrol on Saturday and Sunday.  The Glow Show begins at 5 a.m.

1999: Washoe County school children get involved with the event in the E.L. Cord Tissue Paper Balloon Launch. This event gives school children a chance to positively interact with their community. One of the major goals of this project is to make sure that no funding comes out of the pocket of schools or teachers. The thrill of winning big goes airborne as the Biggest Little City in the World hosts the biggest card game, Balloon Blackjack.

2001: The Great Reno Balloon Race celebrated its 20th Anniversary with the Birthday Cake balloon.

2002: ABC’s Good Morning America appeared at The Great Reno Balloon Race for live cut-ins of Dawn Patrol during their Friday morning show.

2003: The Great Reno Balloon Race hit record attendance with over 140,000 spectators attending the three-day event. Also, Serena’s Song, the only wheelchair accessible balloon in the United States, offered free tethered rides for wheelchair usage and people with disabilities throughout the weekend.

2007: CNN attended the event and The Great Reno Balloon Race also got coverage in worldwide media including Prestige Hong Kong, Every Day with Rachel Ray and The History Channel Magazine. National Championship Air Race becomes a sponsor and performs a T-6 formation fly over during the singing of the National Anthem.

2008: The Great Reno Balloon Race hosted the World’s Largest Pajama Party which encouraged spectators to attend in pajamas with their best (and worst) bed-head.

2009: “Rolling Pilot,” Michael Glen, the first paraplegic hot-air balloon pilot in the world, flew in the Balloon Race. For the first time, Brian Jones flew a hot-air replica of his helium balloon, the Orbiter 3 at the Balloon Race. The Orbiter 3 was the first balloon to fly around the world nonstop.

2011: The Darth Vader balloon made his first appearance to the event. The balloon gave way to Star Wars themed activities and contests and also brought in an entourage of Storm Troopers and included Darth himself!

2012: GRBR introduced the Cloud 9 VIP Club! For the first time spectators could have a front-row seat to the event with a heated tent, catered breakfast and much more!

2013: This marks the introduction of the Friday Super Glow Show. See upwards of 25 balloons twinkling and glowing to music across the field!

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