Ever wondered where the long distance balloonists go to train prior to jumping in gas balloons and taking part in the Gordon Bennett? As it turns this is a reasonably hard-core Alpine Meet where you can easily get caught out if you don’t know what you are up to or turn up ill-prepared. Better known as the Dolomiti Meet last years’ event attracted a large gathering mainly on account of some large prize money being offered. Unfortunately this actually resulted in a degree of mayhem with rules of the air various being apparently broken which included some souls wandering into a foggy Venice which caused a number of aircraft to be diverted and the local CAA to take an interest. It came as no surprise then that this years’ event was cancelled but not to be thwarted a few of the ‘old timers’ decided they would arrange a much more low-key private event. Gas was sourced from a local garage and using their extremely knowledgeable mountain weather knowledge they sorted their own met forecasts and the 13th Dobbiaco gathering was on.
Early on in the year John Rose pops in for his balloon’s annual inspection and is always full of his trip to the Dolomiti Balloon Meet in Italy from which he has normally just returned. With tales of high altitude flights and even getting the opportunity one year to nearly fly home it clearly is the place to go. So we settle him on the sofa give him tea and biscuits and let him ramble on. Once again he and his intrepid gas balloonist chum Chris Wood set off on the long drive across the lowlands to Austria and crossing the Alps via the Brenner Pass and turned left into Italy for this year’s 13th Dobbiaco (they’ve only missed a couple) which was proposed to run from 4-12 January. As requested Chris and John then kindly sent us some great pictures that really do show how exciting and challenging Alpine flying can be not to mention jolly chilly. We have stuck the left-over pictures at the end. Clicking on them will make them bigger and you shiver!
The Dolomiti Meet started in 2004 or maybe 2005 and runs in the second week or so of January. They usually take two balloons, Chris Wood’s Lindstrand 105B, G-BXJG, and John Rose’s Oxford Balloon Company Ride Balloon G-OXBC, a Cameron A-140 and a lot of cylinders to get the maximum amount of fun and flying from this relatively low-key, little known and mainly European attended meet. Both Chris and John reckon that the actual valley that you fly in is actually quite challenging but it is the perfect place to do long distance flights in any direction, weather permitting, so perfect for honing their skills for their already successful long distance gas balloon flights. In recent years they have had great flights to the Poe Valley, right into Venice area, across to Slovenia and into Germany and to Munich. Not a bad venue to hold a balloon meet then. It isn’t necessarily a meet for the novice Alpine hack but there is always plenty of advice and help around. Oxygen, proper gear and warm survival clothing is a must for this event as demonstrated by Wills Wood learning that you can find the required direction if you are equipped to look for it. On this occasion at 14,000ft.
This year was especially challenging with the wind coming from the east, meaning that they ended up flying along the Alps instead of out of them with some down wind valleys fogged in including their favourite and most convenient, Klagenfurt. Despite that they managed to get in four great flights during their week long stay along with some serious socialising especially in the case of Wills Wood who this year excelled in his second sport of eating. John Rose’s team was made up of Josh Taylor, Mark Clift and Clive Brash whilst the Wood family turned out in force with Chris his missus Jan and son Wills joined by Andy ‘Lat Long’ Buckland. Over the corner of map board the highest mountain in Austria "GroBglockner"at a respectable 12,461ft.
When the flying was over greatest delight was taken watching Wills Wood do death defying acrobatics on skis into a huge air bag along with Josh and Mark repeating the stunt on toboggans. The traditional curling competition with their great friend Tom Strickler went down well this year’s the star being Chris Wood!!. Along with the two British Teams there were nine others making for so nice sociable flying and very pleasant off-flying socialising. One thing you will always find at this meet are the most experienced Alpine balloonists that there are and all are willing to help, teach and encourage high altitude, long-distance flying over some of the trickiest terrain in Europe and says John it is always a great pleasure the fly with them. Only one question remains. Will they be going back? Roll on next year!!
To find out more about the meet go to their website http://www.balloonfestival.it/en/
Or contact the organisers by email at firstname.lastname@example.org