Ballooning the Green Mountains

Posted on April 1, 2011

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By Ben Kennedy

JERICHO — Expansive nature and beautiful scenery is one aspect of Vermont culture that drives tourists to visit and locals to never leave. Vermont is covered with over 80 percent boreal forest, lining the stubby green mountains, and on the western border separating us from New York, is Lake Champlain.

The only way to see the views Vermont has to offer at sunset or sunrise is by taking a hot air balloon tour with Above Reality in the Champlain Valley.

“We use all the balloons pretty evenly,” explains Jeff Snyder, company owner and founder. “The big one comes out a little less often because it’s for larger parties.”

With a fleet of three balloons, one of which carries eight to ten passengers at a time, the company runs flights year-round and complete one about every four days. The two other balloons are smaller and carry two to six people at a time.

The prices fluctuate between $179 for children eight to eleven, to the average of $265 per person. Above Reality offers some more expensive custom flights including the Foliage Flight, a ride in October to watch the leaves change color, High Altitude Mile High Club, when you go up to a guaranteed 5,280 feet, Over the Mountain, a ride directly over Mt. Mansfield, Lake Champlain Traverse, a float from New York over the lake and back to Vermont, and Exclusive/Private Flights, for those who seek a secluded, romantic flight. These are more expensive though, with the Traverse being $600 per person, and the Exclusive flight ranging from $1,250 to $2,000.

“We do get people who say it’s expensive,” Snyder admits. “But usually at the end of the flight we get that same person saying it was worth it.”

Snyder’s an interesting character himself. A Vermonter who attended Penn State, thought of a hot air balloon company during a business class, got an “A” on the project, worked in Colorado Springs at a balloon company for four months, moved to Phoenix and worked for six months, earned his pilot license at the same time, and finally returned to Vermont to share ballooning with the rest of us.

“It [the time out west] was awesome,” he says, “I learned a lot out there from some really smart guys who’ve been doing this a long time.” Some of the pilots who trained him flew for corporate companies like 7-Up, RE/Max, Burger King, Verizon Wireless, and former President Jimmy Carter.

For that, you get about an hour in the sky but from setup to finish takes three to four hours, so much of what you’re paying for is setup time and labor.

Snyder says that most of the people who go ballooning with Above Reality haven’t been before.

“You know, if you’re only going to go ballooning once, or you’ve always wanted to do it, $265 in a lifetime really isn’t very much money.”

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Posted in: Ben Kennedy