Great Reno Balloon Race, popular with residents, draws 40 percent of its attendance from visitors

With the soft regional economy putting the kibosh on many vacation plans, free special events provide an excellent opportunity for northern Nevada residents to find entertainment, says Pilar Aldecoaotalora, president of The Great Reno Balloon Race Board of trustees.

The annual balloon races at Rancho San Rafael Regional Park draw an estimated 150,000 fans over the course of the three-day event held after the Labor Day weekend. Roughly 60 percent of the people attending the event come from the Truckee Meadows and surrounding communities, Aldecoaotalora says.

The Great Reno Balloon Race is the largest free hot air ballooning event in the country. Founded in 1982 with just 20 balloons, the event now features more than 100 balloons. Newspaper readers have voted it the best special event in Reno, and the best special event in northern Nevada.

Although attendance at other popular special events in northern Nevada has dipped in conjunction with the economy, attendance has held steady at the Great Reno Balloon Race.

"Attendance continues to go up; it has not faltered," Aldecoaotalora says. "We have had an increase every year, and I think that is because we are offering a free event that most people will enjoy."

This year's event will be Sept. 9-11 and marks the 30th anniversary of The Great Reno Balloon Race. Events such as the Glow Show, the Mass Ascension Launch, and especially Dawn Patrol, where a handful of balloons launch in the pre-dawn hours, remain popular for young and old alike.

"The balloon races really are for the entire family to enjoy," Aldecoaotalora says. "It is the largest free hot air balloon race in the nation. There are bigger events like Albuquerque, but ours is the only one that because of the courtesy of our sponsors and generosity of our benefactors that we can maintain it free for the community."

Aldecoaotalora notes that economic estimates for the event show that about 40 percent of the rooms booked during that weekend are for balloon race patrons.

"They are at all the major hotels, as well as shopping in our malls and eating in our restaurants," she says.

The Great Reno Balloon Race was created in part to spur the economy in early September, which historically softened after a busy Labor Day weekend. Together with the Street Vibrations motorcycle rally, the balloon race has made a significant impact on bringing tourism dollars to the region.

Aldecoaotalora says The Great Reno Balloon Race will host unique craft this year, including Hopper T. Frog and a balloon taking its inaugural flight: Betty Jean Butterfly. Both balloons are from the May Foundation.

National media coverage also has helped the event grow. News articles about the event have appeared on the History Channel, National Geographic Travel and Rachael Ray magazine, Aldecoaotalora says.

"The race provides valuable news coverage for the area, which helps further the message from the Reno Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority that Reno is a great place to live and visit," she says.

"It transcends industries," she says of the event. "Most people have tried to take advantage of it. It is really important for us to thank our sponsors and encourage business to sponsor this biggest free event in the community."


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