How did the Balloon Fiesta get started?

Emily Jaceks
October 07, 2017 06:15 AM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Each year, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta produces amazing photos and great stories, but perhaps one of the best stories of all is how the whole event began.


In 2008, KOB talked to Balloon Fiesta founder Sid Cutter before he died. The Fiesta began in 1971 when Cutter threw a party for his company, Cutter Aviation.

"I was going to decorate it in World War I airplane themes, you know, but they're very delicate and they're hard to come by and were expensive," he said. "I was going to suspend them from the rafters and stuff."

When Cutter couldn't find what he was looking for, he decided on a hot air balloon. It was just a decoration. No one actually flew it that night, but the next day the Cutter brothers decided to take it for a ride. They had no experience flying one.

"My brother knocks on the door at 6 in the morning," Cutter said. "And I said, 'What are you doing?' I was still in my bathrobe. And he said, 'C'mon, we're going to go flying.' I said, 'We can't fly. We haven't got any gas.' He says, 'Oh yeah, I stopped by the truck stop and filled it up.'"

The next year, KOB radio asked the cutters if the balloon could be part of its 50th anniversary.

"They said, 'Can we have an ascension?' I said sure," Cutter said. "I said, 'How about a balloon race? I know where we can get about three other balloons and we can have a balloon race.' Well, what's a balloon race? I said I don't know but we'll find out."

Thirteen balloons and 20 thousand people showed up to the Coronado Center parking lot, curious about what would happen.

That moment is now considered the first Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. It has grown into the largest ballooning event in the world.

"It's really been a boom for the state of New Mexico and the City of Albuquerque," Cutter said. "They used to think you had to have a passport to come to Albuquerque, but, or to New Mexico, but now they say you are where the balloons are."

Cutter lost his battle with cancer in 2011. He was 77 years old.


Emily Jaceks

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