Up, up and away

Whit Landvater


After a Republican rally this week, a crew was collapsing an eagle balloon that had been a display at the rally. We noticed one balloonist who was nearly swallowed up in the fabric (see photo) as the balloon slowly deflated around him. We hit him up for an interview. Whit Landvater works for Balloon Nevada in Douglas County. The website is www.BalloonNevada.com.

What do you do?

I’m a hot air balloonist.

How’d you get into it?

I lived in Albuquerque, which is the ballooning capital of the world, and got the bug and had the opportunity to learn to fly. That was 30-some years ago, and here I am.

How much of this kind of thing do you do?

Oh, we fly probably two, three times a week, maybe, down in the valley, Carson Valley. …

There’s a living to be made in this?

Not a good one, but it’s a fun one. There’s a saying in ballooning—if you want to make a million bucks in ballooning, start with two million.

Where all have you traveled?

Oh, you name it. Might start with 50 states, over a hundred-some cities. Pretty much the last 15 years I’ve spent it all in the Carson Valley. We come up here for the Reno races, but that’s it. I like to stick around here in our backyard where the air is clean. Not too crowded, you know. Beautiful area to play.

This is an eagle balloon. … How many kinds of balloons does the company have?

He’s got several [referring to balloon company owner Maury Pephren]. I believe this is the only shaped balloon that they’ve got.

What’s appealing about ballooning?

You have to do it to understand it. I could sit here all day and talk to you about the reasons why to do it. It’s one of those things that’s a sensation that’s unlike any other sensation you can have. In fact, it’s considered the world’s second greatest sensation. It’s one of those things about suspended under a big bag of air and watching the world go by underneath of you that’s pretty addictive. You get out there to the Reno balloon races one of these times and check it out if you want, just to feel the excitement. I took a kid that crews for me a couple weeks ago, he and his girlfriend, for their first flight. And he talked to me after the flight and he said, “You know, it’s so funny. … We didn’t talk the whole flight.” They were just looking and looking and gawking and just absorbing everything, and that’s what it’s all about. It’s just hanging out. You’re going at the mercy of the wind and the views from up there are so incredible. You get a chance to really see what’s below you, rather than in an airplane or anything else that zips through the air—something might catch your eye and within five seconds it’s out of view. We can focus on those things.