Hot air balloons float serenely across the Columbia sky, smoothly drifting over Farout Field, past Francis Quadrangle until they vanish from sight. Where do these balloons come from and where do they go? The answer is Balloon Stormers.
Located at the Boone County Fairgrounds, Balloon Stormers was founded by Gary Sines in 1993 and is the only hot air balloon service in Columbia. Sines and his wife, Janice, are both pilots for the company and provide a majority of the balloon rides.
The company owns eight or nine balloons, says Gary Sines, who has been flying balloons for 40 years.
“We have a few four-passenger balloons, some smaller training balloons and a couple special-shaped balloons, including one called Coco the Clown,” he says.
Why has Gary Sines stayed in the hot air balloon business for so long?
“Well, I’ve taken up a lot of people who have never been in a hot air balloon before,” Gary says. “I like to share the experience with them.”
Balloon Stormers offers rides every day of the week, twice a day. According to the website, it prefers to give rides just after sunrise and just before sunset because the air is most still at those times. The beautiful view is just a lucky perk.
What makes a balloon ride even more exciting is that, without a propeller or steering wheel for control, passengers in a hot air balloon are taken wherever the wind blows.
“The only steering you have is the wind,” says Janice Sines. “We have launch sites all over town. When we take off, we never know how far we’re going to go or where we will land. That is determined by the wind speed and direction.”
In ideal conditions, landing can be as easy as drifting down into an open field. In case of any accidents or emergencies, the balloons have “chasers” follow them around in cars until it lands. Once the balloon is on the ground, the riders exit, the balloon is deflated, packed up and sent back to Balloon Stormers for another ride.
“Perfect conditions for a ride are between five to six miles per hour of wind on the ground,” Janice says. “It’s the same thing for landing, about five or six miles per hour.”
Balloon Stormers will provide a ride for anyone of any age for $200 a person, though children younger than 10 are generally discouraged from riding.
“We had this 95-year-old woman come along for her birthday,” Janice Sines says. “She stuck her head over the side of the basket and yelled to the people below, ‘I’m 95 years old! This is my birthday! You have to do this before you die!’ She loved it.”