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Feature

Up, Up And Away

July 4, 2016

It’s time to get this one crossed off your bucket list.

By Susan Peck
Photographer: Jerry Zolynsky
Creative Director: Deborah Schultz
Casting & Production Director: Constantina for Talent Media Services
Wardrobe Stylist: Michelle Hutchins

hot air balloon ride has been described many ways, but maybe most poetically as “the balloon seems to stand still in the air while the Earth flies past underneath.” It’s no wonder it tops the adventures on our “must-do” list.

The first hot air balloon flown in the United States was launched in 1793 by the French aeronaut Jean Pierre Blanchard, and legend has it that he carried champagne for toasting to celebrate the spectacular adventure — and to calm anxious spectators at their landing site.

The tradition still stands today, but now it’s just for the celebrating.

Dennis Kollin, owner of Sky Adventures ballooning in Oxford, has had more than 40,000 of those toasts — the number of people he has taken on a sky-high adventure during his 40 years as a hot air balloon pilot for his company.

Kollin, who has an FAA balloon piloting license, is living his dream and doing what he loves most. “We have eight beautiful multicolored balloons we fly over scenic northern Oakland and southern Lapeer counties, and I get to give flyers one of the most memorable experiences of a lifetime.”

The thrills, he said, never get old.

“Hot air balloon navigation relies on the direction and speed of the wind so no two flights are exactly the same,” Kollin said. “That’s what keeps it so exciting each and every time we go up. It’s that and the fact that I get to experience the excitement like it’s the first time from every person that rides with me.”

Each of Sky Adventures’s commercially rated pilots have logged more than 7,000 hours of flight (the length of each flight is approximately 45-60 minutes). The total time for a typical outing is about three hours with group or private flights available carrying up to six passengers plus the pilot.

Firefly Balloons in North Carolina makes the hand-sewn and crafted envelopes (balloons) and wicker baskets that Kollin purchased for his ballooning company.

“Our balloons are the Cadillac of the industry because of the craftsmanship and details we put into the complete balloon system,” said Keith Gantt, general manager of Firefly Balloons. “We use only the finest and most durable materials for the envelopes, and tightly hand-woven wicker baskets complete with a nine-ply, birch laminate floor.”

Sky Adventures’ busy season runs from April through November. During these months, they fly seven days a week, weather permitting, either in the morning or early evening. “Timing is everything because ballooning is only possible during the first couple hours after sunrise and the last couple hours before sunset,” Kollin said. “The winds must be under 12 mph in order to fly safely. During the middle of the day, the winds are generally too strong to do that, and there are unpredictable thermal conditions caused by heat from the sun.”

Marking the Moment

Adventures like skydiving, bungee jumping and hot air ballooning are popular ways to mark a spectacular life moment with an indelible memory. Sky Adventures often hosts flights for banner birthdays, romantic proposals or anniversaries and any special happening you want to celebrate. 

Shalee Blackmer, a new graduate of Michigan State University, was looking for a way to do just that. “My Facebook feed was filled with classmates around campus in their caps and gowns, waiting to finally be able to call themselves Michigan State University alumni, but it hit me that I wanted an alternative graduation,” Blackmer said.

She wanted to mark her graduation with something that told the story of her exploring spirit. “I decided I wanted to go hot air ballooning instead of the traditional walk for my diploma,” Blackmer said. “When I called Sky Adventures, Dennis said I would be his first flyer in a cap and gown, a title I was happy to take.”

The evening of her flight, Blackmer met up with the Sky Adventures crew in Oxford for launching. “I was crossing my fingers for good weather, and the graduation gods seemed to be answering my prayers to be able to fly at the exact moment of my MSU ceremony,” she said.

It takes 15 minutes to prep the balloons and then about five minutes to inflate each one until ready for take-off. “We helped inflate Ragtime (balloons are typically given a name just like boats), and once we were up in the air it was a whole other world,” Blackmer said. “It was so peaceful and quiet as the sun slowly set to the west and we looked down on lakes, forests and farms. Sailing high and then floating low, we’d wave at people driving on the highway, who were happy to honk back. A small plane joined us for a few minutes, dipping in and out, as if to say hello.

“It was truly the best way I could begin the next chapter of my life,” she added. “I couldn’t stop smiling from the ride. I wish I could do it 100 more times.”

Kollin said they reached a maximum altitude of 4,100 feet during the new graduate’s flight, pretty normal for the warm and calm weather that evening. “When you get a clear evening like that you can see the Detroit skyline in the distance.”

They landed smoothly in a family’s front yard (every landing spot is different) and everyone welcomed them with cheers and photos. Sky Adventures provides every flyer with keepsake photos, a pin and, of course, a champagne toast. NS

TO BOOK A FLIGHT

To book a flight at Sky Adventures Hot Air Ballooning, a gift certificate or a $50 per person non-refundable deposit is required. Reservations can be made over the phone, generally with only a few days’ notice. However, weekend flights and private flights are best reserved well in advance as they fill up quickly. Because they fly eight balloons with varying capacities, quite often they may have an opening for the very same day you call.

Call Dennis Kollin at (248) 628-1000 or visit www.skyadventures.com. It’s located at 4191 Locust Valley Lane in Oxford. Cost ranges from $175 to $325 per person.

Make-Up Stylist: Sigal Levine
Hair Stylist: Necole Capicchioni for Elle Studio Salon
Models: Alyse Madej and Jeremy Bruce/The i Group
Camera Assistant: Ron Shelton
Social Media: Stephanie Allor for Brand Barr
Location Shots: Sky Adventures Hot Air Balloon Company, Oxford, Michigan
Special thanks: Huron clinton Metroparks / Kensington metroPark

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