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Helen set to host hot-air balloon race June 2-4
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A hot-air balloon floats into the sky during last year’s 42nd annual Helen to the Atlantic Balloon Race and Festival.

Helen to the Atlantic Balloon Race
When: 7 a.m. Thursday, June 2, lift-off and mass ascension
Where: field across the river from Cool River Tubing, 590 Edelweiss Strasse, Helen, on the Wilkin’s family property. To enter the field, cross the bridge at Cool River Tubing and turn left.
Cost: Free to attend, $300 for champagne balloon flights, $10 for tethered rides
More info: 706-878-2271 or www.helenballoon.com

The early morning skies in North Georgia’s “alpine village” fill with dozens of massive, bright and colorful hot-air balloons for an annual spring event.

The South’s oldest balloon event and the only long-distance hot-air balloon race, known as the Helen to the Atlantic Balloon Race, will begin with a mass ascension at 7 a.m. Thursday, June 2, in Helen. The first balloon to cross Interstate 95, or whichever is ahead at sunset Friday, June 3, is the winner.

The launch field for Thursday’s ascension is across the river from Cool River Tubing, 590 Edelweiss Strasse, in Helen on the Wilkin’s family property. To enter the field, cross the bridge at Cool River Tubing and turn left.

If weather conditions are too windy or storms are forecast, the take off will be postponed until conditions are acceptable.

This year’s “balloonmeister” is Tarp Head, founder of HEAD Balloons, one of five Federal Aviation Administration-approved balloon manufacturers in the United States.

“I help coordinate all the flight activities,” Head said. “I check weather and give a weather briefing to the pilots every morning and afternoon and describe to them what the wind and weather conditions are, and what the area we’re heading toward is like. We just discuss the day’s flight, to let them know what to expect.”

This is familiar territory for Head. He participated in the first balloon event in Helen in 1974 and won the race in 1979. He then founded Head Balloons in Helen.

The race kicks off a weekend of balloon activities, with local flying events Friday and Saturday. Balloons will fly for an hour or two at approximately 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. each day, weather permitting. Between six and 10 balloons will race, while more than 20 will fly locally.

Opportunities for the public include assisting with inflations, joining a chase crew, taking a tethered ride or a champagne flight.

The main time for tethered balloon rides will be Saturday, June 4, beginning at 7:30 p.m. These rides last about 10 minutes and cost $10 each. The balloon will be tied to the ground while rising about 50 to 75 feet in the air.

Champagne balloon flights, meanwhile, may be scheduled in advance by calling HEAD Balloons at 706-865-3874, or by calling the race headquarters at Helendorf Inn at 706-878-2271 after the event has begun. Flights last about an hour and cost $300 per person.

Head said he encourages North Georgia residents to consider coming out to the three-day event.

“It’s just such a beautiful thing,” he said. “The balloons themselves are so colorful, and they bring out the kid in everyone.”

For more information, call the Balloon Race Headquarters at the Helendorf Inn at 706-878-2271, or go to www.helenballoon.com.

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