Travel

January 25, 2017

Exceptional Opening weekend of the 39th International Balloon Festival of Château-d’Oex

Launch area

Since 1979 the small village of Château-d’Oex in the beautiful Swiss alpine valley of the Pays-d’Enhaut has been holding the International Balloon Festival. Lasting nine consecutive days, it is amongst the longest hot air balloon festivals in the world. Over 70 balloons are participating in the event each year and in the different competitions that challenge the expert balloon pilots’ skills. For the public there are opportunities to take balloon rides as well as view and photograph some of the most spectacular scenery in the Swiss countryside.

Château-d’Oex

The opening weekend of the 39th edition of the International Balloon Festival of Château-d’Oex, Saturday, January 21st through Sunday, January 29th, 2017 could hardly have been more ideal. An outdoor flying event such as a hot air balloon festival is highly dependent on the weather conditions. But for this opening weekend, all required conditions for a successful start came together: cold, sunny weather with almost no clouds at all, fresh snow and only a little wind at ground level.

Rossinière

On Saturday morning, as soon as the pilot briefing was over, the quiet, empty launch area filled with all the preparations for the morning flights became a very bustling place. Pilots and crew were getting the baskets on the field, checking the burners, starting to inflate the balloons; first with cold air before heating them up. The first ones were soon ready to take off. I was lucky to get a spot for a balloon ride, but while the flight ticket was being filled out, I was asked if I would be interested in a longer flight. I asked what they meant by a longer flight and the response was intriguing. “Depending on the winds we might catch, it would be advisable to take some Euros in addition to your Swiss Francs.” Thankfully I had nothing planned and gladly accepted the unique offer.

Gruyère

Small village

Selfie at 12’000ft with 360° camera

It was a modern double-layered balloon providing much better isolation for the hot air inside the envelope from the freezing outside temperature which drastically reduces fuel consumption compared to a normal hot air balloon. We took off in postcard-perfect weather. For the first part of the flight, the pilot paid close attention to observing the weather and to follow the air stream keeping us inside the valley until we reached Gruyère Castle. Then, we gained altitude to find some stronger winds. The balloon climbed to 4200 m (14’000 ft) offering an extraordinarily rare view on the entire region. There was some visibility to mountains surrounding Geneva as well as good visibility of the mountains on the border of Austria. Below, a thick fog layer was covering the entire Swiss Plateau between the Swiss Alps and the Jura Mountains. A light wind pushed us in a northern direction, fast enough for the pilot to decide to cross the sea of fog. It was an unforgettable experience, standing in a basket far above the ground, pushed only by the wind. We were in almost total silence only broken a few times by the noise of the burners above our heads and the regular radio contacts with air traffic control of Geneva airport. It felt a bit like being alone in the world. Regarding photography however, flying at such an altitude was a bit disappointing. Regardless of the direction, everything is far away. We reached the “shores” of the sea of fog at the mountains surrounding the city of Neuchatel. As time was flying as well, the pilot started to look out for a good spot to land the balloon; ideally an open field away from trees and power lines, but close enough to a road to be picked up. We landed in Les Breuleux in the Canton of Jura, close to the border of France after almost 5 hours in the air.

It was a superb experience to get such a long flight. First enjoying the beautiful valley at low altitude down to Gruyère before taking altitude to see “over” the mountains to France and southern Germany on a perfectly sunny day. It is fascinating how the altitude changes the landscape. I believe I know the region pretty well, including the first ridge of mountains one sees from the ground, but at such an altitude, you can almost enjoy the entire chain of Alps. But despite this rare opportunity for this balloon ride, it also meant I missed most of what the festival had to offer on the opening day. The highlight was the launch of a gas balloon as a teaser for the long distance Gordon Bennett 2017, the FAI World Long Distance Gas Balloon Championship which will take place in September in the nearby city of Fribourg. However, I will be sure and attend this event also in order to keep up!

Don’t miss this festival, especially as the weather conditions look excellent. The festival continues until Sunday, January 29th, 2017.

These and more photos are under www.bydoms.com

  • Rossinière

    Rossinière

  • 39ème Festival International de Ballons de Château-d'oex

    39ème Festival International de Ballons de Château-d'oex

  • 39ème Festival International de Ballons de Château-d'oex

    39ème Festival International de Ballons de Château-d'oex

  • 39ème Festival International de Ballons de Château-d'oex

    39ème Festival International de Ballons de Château-d'oex

  • Château-d'Oex

    Château-d'Oex

  • 39ème Festival International de Ballons de Château-d'oex

    39ème Festival International de Ballons de Château-d'oex

  • 39ème Festival International de Ballons de Château-d'oex

    39ème Festival International de Ballons de Château-d'oex

  • 39ème Festival International de Ballons de Château-d'oex

    39ème Festival International de Ballons de Château-d'oex

  • 39ème Festival International de Ballons de Château-d'oex

    39ème Festival International de Ballons de Château-d'oex

  • 39ème Festival International de Ballons de Château-d'oex

    39ème Festival International de Ballons de Château-d'oex

  • 39ème Festival International de Ballons de Château-d'oex

    39ème Festival International de Ballons de Château-d'oex

  • 39ème Festival International de Ballons de Château-d'oex

    39ème Festival International de Ballons de Château-d'oex

  • Les Breuleux

    Les Breuleux

  • Villarsonnens

    Villarsonnens

  • 39ème Festival International de Ballons de Château-d'oex

    39ème Festival International de Ballons de Château-d'oex

  • 39ème Festival International de Ballons de Château-d'oex

    39ème Festival International de Ballons de Château-d'oex

  • Gruyère

    Gruyère

  • Sciernes d'Albeuve

    Sciernes d'Albeuve

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About the Author

Dominique Schreckling
Dominique Schreckling
IPA Staff ID: 06617 • I live in the french speaking part of Switzerland, near Lake Geneva. I am a freelance photojournalist focusing mainly on events photography (music festivals, sports events and trade shows) and travel photography. An overview of my photographic work over the last few years can be seen under www.bydoms.com.




 
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