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I am a little bit fascinated with hot air balloons.

I don’t know- maybe it’s the vibrant colors, or maybe it’s the whole defying the laws of gravity thing.

They’re just mesmerizing. And also a little bit terrifying. I’ve ridden in a tethered balloon before, but that’s it. If you follow me on social, you know that my profile photo has been a hot air balloon right from the get-go (and in this post, I explain why).

So when I was at a kids birthday party on the Bluff (Keuka’s Bluff) on Sunday, imagine my delight when a balloon arose out of nowhere. I Instagrammed it (and tweeted it), of course.

And the next day, I got a reply on twitter about my hot air balloon pic.

Wait a minute. Someone IN THAT VERY BALLOON just tweeted me? I love the internet!

Yep. Turns out, it was the pilot, Greg Livadas. He tweeted me some photos. Here’s a stunner:

Keuka, Seneca, Cayuga Lakes - High Hopes Balloon Co.


And a bunch more photos of that balloon were posted in the I ♥ Keuka Lake Facebook Group, which stirred a lot of conversation! Like these by Jay Darks – he captured the balloon from the ground to the air!

Hot Air Ballooning in the Finger Lakes - Photos by Jay Darks


So I contacted Greg and asked him a bunch of questions about this particular flight and about hot hair ballooning in general. I asked him a bunch of questions that I’d never even thought to ask, so I learned a ton of interesting facts about hot air ballooning.

So if you’re like me, here’s 7 things you probably don’t know about hot air ballooning in the Finger Lakes:

1) Greg has been flying hot air balloons since 1978, and has been a commercial hot air balloon pilot since 1982.

Oh the 80s… weren’t they just the most fabulous time? Especially with music by singers like… Glenn Medeiros. Here’s Greg with Glenn and model Mary Post filming the music video “Long and Lasting Love” for MTV.

2) Launching the balloon – For the flight on Sunday, Greg’s passengers (the McIntosh’s) have a cottage on the East side of Keuka, and wanted to launch from there. They were able to make it work using a grassy area in a neighboring yard. The yard was JUST big enough to inflate and launch safely. Although the trees were close on on all sides, the wind was calm enough to make it work.

The McIntosh’s daughter, Amanda, gave me permission to share some of her photos:

Hot Air Ballooning in the Finger Lakes

Hot Air Ballooning in the Finger Lakes


3) Some of the photos I saw show the basket just (juuuuuuust) a hair above the water, so I asked Greg about that. Greg said that hovering above the lake offers a unique way to see things. You’re higher than a boat, and lower and slower than an airplane, so the perspective is one that people can’t really experience otherwise.

Greg shared that “it’s a bit tricky to determine your height over the water, but we did fine. It’s not uncommon to do a “splash and dash” in the water with the basket.”

And then he followed up with this story…

A couple of years ago we landed on the sandy beach at the north end of Canandaigua Lake. The only time we deflated on a lake was on Conesus many years ago. It was in February and frozen, allowing us to pack up and go warm up.

That sounds like the “freeze-your-ass and dash” version to me.

Anyway, that’s the deal with the hovering over the water thing.

4) It seems like the lakes would offer a special challenge to ballooning in the Finger Lakes. Normally, Greg’s flying area is in the areas of Conesus Lake, Geneseo, or Canandaigua. Greg said it’s not great to fly around Naples of Bristol (although WOW that would be a fascinating flight) due to all the trees.

5) So… how do you plan a hot air balloon flight to ensure you don’t end up over water with no wind to carry you? Well, just takes some science and preparation.

We check the forecast and winds aloft, plus we arrive at the site and send up a helium toy balloon to actually see what the winds are doing. We can control up and down easily, but right or left, we have to rely on the wind. So Sunday, the higher winds were blowing to the north, which was a good direction for landing sites.

Here’s an image showing the flight path from this past Sunday:

Flight Path of Hot Air Ballooning in the Finger Lakes

They were way up to 4,800 feet near Keuka College (where it’s dark red).

They ended up landing in a field in Potter (but it looks like Greg eyeballed the Potter Muck as potential landing spot first!). Their crew was waiting for them there, and they packed things up and went on their merry way.

6) So they just land in a random field somewhere – it’s not a planned-ahead kind of thing. And then they offer the landowners champaign. Although that totally sounds like something invented in the Finger Lakes, it’s not. Greg explains:

The first humans to fly were in a balloon in France – long before the Wright Brothers – so those folks in France would come down and be attacked by the farmers with pitchforks because they thought they were aliens. So they started to carry champagne to thank the landowners and show they were from the area. We still like to present the landowners with champagne or sparking juice as a thank you.

7) Spotting Hot Air balloons around here is kind of a treasure. They’re not and every-day sight, but they are more prevalent now than they used to be. Greg shared a few interesting stories from back in the day when people freaked out a little bit:

Once we took off from a field in Potter and landed near the college. Balloons were so rare in the area, people saw our flame and assumed we were on fire and called 911. Our passengers happened to work for 911 and canceled the call.

Another time we flew from the bluff, very slowly over the west fork into Pulteney. We landed near a vineyard and chatted with the landowners after we landed and it was getting dark. Drove off and came to an intersection where a command center was set up “looking for the downed balloon.”

So there you have it! All you ever wanted to know about ballooning in the Finger Lakes. Greg has about 1,100 hours piloting balloons, although it’s just a weekend gig for him. Heck, he has been piloting hot air balloons since before I was born… and I’m no youngster. Just saying.

If you’re interested in learning more about Greg and High Hopes Balloon Co. (and booking a flight!), check out his website at highhopesballoon.com. Also, maybe check out joining the Friends of High Hopes Balloon Co. group on Facebook.

Huge thanks to Greg for entertaining some (probably ridiculous) questions!