Up and away

Chico couple launch hot air balloon company

PHOTO courtesy of skydancer balloon company

For Brann Smith and Marie Klemm hot-air ballooning is more than just a hobby; it’s a way of life. They recently started Chico-based Skydancer Balloon Company to offer tours of the local skies, and plan to wed this August at a balloon festival. And where did Smith propose? In a hot-air balloon, of course. Go to www.facebook.com/balloon.skydancer for more information about the company’s balloon rides.

How did you get into ballooning?

About 15 years ago I took a balloon ride and thought it was such an amazing, unique experience that I decided right then I wanted to be a pilot. I was a corporate guy, so I planned for a while, quit my job, sold my home, bought a big motor home and traveled across the country taking lessons from different instructors. I trained for four years with 18 different instructors and really made an adventure of it. Now I’ve flown thousands of people, am an instructor myself, and formerly owned balloon companies in Bend, Ore., Phoenix, Ariz., and Las Vegas, Nev.

What brought you to Chico?

This is where I grew up. I went away for 30 years and now I’m very happy to be back.

Tell me about your fleet of balloons.

We currently have three balloons and are having another built. The reason for different-sized balloons is to carry different numbers of people. We have balloons for just two and a pilot, like for couples, and some that carry four or five, for trips with family or friends. We even have a balloon with a special seat built in [so that] people in wheelchairs or older folks or those with other disabilities can enjoy a balloon ride.

What is a typical ride like?

We usually fly in the mornings, so we meet shortly after sunrise, or we also do some sunset flights. It takes about 15 minutes to prepare the balloon, then we have a nice ceremony with some breakfast, and we toast the trip with champagne or sparkling water. This is a tradition very important to the history of ballooning because in 1783, when people first started flying these things, [ballooners would] sometimes land on farms and the farmers would rush out with pitchforks to “kill the monster.” They’d never seen anything fly before and were scared. So after a bunch of balloons were destroyed, it became tradition to carry wine or champagne on board so that when you landed, you could greet people and offer them a drink to toast the magnificent flying machine rather than destroy it.