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Bad weather dampens "Piccard effect" at balloon festival

Switzerland's biggest hot-air balloon festival has come to a close for another year, with about 14,000 attending the nine-day event in Chateau-d'Oex. However, bad weather meant that figure was far short of breaking the record.

This content was published on January 30, 2000 - 08:07

Switzerland's biggest hot-air balloon festival has come to a close for another year, with about 14,000 attending the nine-day event in Chateau-d'Oex. However, bad weather on both the opening and closing weekends meant that figure was far short of breaking the record.

But despite high winds that prevented any of the balloons taking off on the final Saturday, the festival's director Phillippe Sublet said the event as a whole had been an undeniable success.

"You cannot break records every year. We have been happy with the nice weather in the middle of the week. The weather at the weekends was not so good, but the balloon week is an annual event. In 2001 and 2002 we will have more chances to break records," he said.

Over the past 22 years, the Chateau-d'Oex festival has built up a reputation as the biggest mountain balloon meeting in the world. But nothing has boosted its reputation as much as that one day in March last year when the Swiss balloonist, Bertrand Piccard, and his British copilot, Brian Jones, lifted off from the resort en route to becoming the first men to fly a balloon non-stop around the world.

The media attention surrounding that flight certainly helped with promoting the importance of Chateau-d'Oex. And, according to Phillippe Sublet, it also helped in preparing the public for the disappointment of this week's weather.

"Thanks to the efforts of Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones, people now understand a little bit better the importance of the weather. You can go around the world with strong winds, but you cannot take off or land if the winds are too strong."

Although the weather could have been better on the two high-profile weekends, there were plenty of other highlights to keep the organisers and public happy. Blue skies in the middle of the week brought the spectacular sight of 80 balloons taking off simultaneously.

Friday night saw a record number of visitors attending the "nightglow" show, in which a line of hot air balloons illuminated the sky like giant candles. Even in the wind and the rain, a string of sideshows from remote-controlled balloons to 3D photography displays and carnival music maintained the festival atmosphere.

For the balloonists themselves the occasional rainy day also offered them the chance to talk business. British balloonist, Crispin Williams, was not happy to be grounded on the closing weekend. But in his other guise as sales director of the Thunder and Colt balloon manufacturers, he could at least appreciate the financial importance of the Chateau-d'Oex get-together.

"There's more interest now from the larger companies, who are looking at special-shaped balloons to promote their products. Bertrand Piccard's flight, in particular, has been very important to my company which built the balloon and to its main sponsors, Breitling, whose sales have boomed enormously."

It seems the current interest in hot-air ballooning and the growing reputation of Chateau-d'Oex will be enough to guarantee that the excitement generated by this event long outlives the memory of a few drizzly days. The organisers are already promising even bigger things for next year's show. The only promise they're not making is about the weather.

By Mark Ledsom

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