Marvin Schultz checks his heading as he flies over the city of Grande Prairie in a Sundance hot air balloon, Tuesday Aug. 6. Schultz has been a liscened balloon pilot for nearly 21 years, and has been flying for Sundance Balloons since 2002.
After nearly 21 years of granting people the “flight of a lifetime,” Marvin Schultz still says every flight he pilots brings its own host of new and refreshing experiences.From the first time he went up in the basket of a hot air balloon, courtesy of a high school classmate, Schultz said he was instantly hooked on the hobby and needed to take part in every way possible.Initially, Schultz got involved with a ballooning club in 1995 and would obtain his piloting license three years later in September 1998.“Sundance has been around for 37 years and I started flying with them in 2002,” said Schultz.“I flew in Saskatoon for four years before moving back to Grande Prairie and started a small operation here.”Upon his return to Grande Prairie, acting as an owner/operator for Sundance, the company provided Schultz with his balloon and equipment, and managed the bookings for rides, while he was responsible for the van, trailer, crew and other amenities provided after the flight.Like any sport or hobby, ballooning comes with its own startup costs, which Schultz jokingly compared to that of buying a car.“If you were to go out and get a brand new sport balloon and setup, it would probably run you $35-40,000, beside the training costs of $8-10,000,” said Schultz.A tradition of balloonists, since the first flights in 1783, is to bring along a bottle “or a case” of champagne on the flight.“The reason for this is, back when balloonists first took off in France, they would typically land in farmer’s fields. Not knowing what was going on, the farmers would run out at the balloons with pitchforks ready to stab holes in them,” said Schultz.“Knowing full well no Frenchman would ever turn down a drink, when the farmers would come running out, the balloonists would simply hold up the bottle of champagne and invite the farmer to join them instead of destroying their balloons. And so that became a tradition that continued into today.”Today, balloonists typically take off and land in low traffic, open spaces such as public parks or fields off highways.Over the past 20 years, ballooning has remained relatively stagnant in terms of new developments, as the standard remains very similar to the designs brought into use in the 1950s. The primary differences between balloons become the volume of fabric, size of the basket and how powerful a burner is attached to the chassis.A relatively simple and family friendly sport and business, ballooning doesn’t come without its own set of complications.Schultz grimaced at the frustration he experiences on occasion when having to tell some folks their flights have been cancelled or rescheduled due to uncooperative weather conditions.“What frustrates me the most is when you don’t get the chance to give someone the flight of a lifetime,” said Schultz.More information and tickets to ride can be found on the Sundance website at www.sundanceballoons.com.