Q&A with Adirondack Balloon Flights by SunKiss Ballooning

The Lake George region is an area full of unique attractions. You can take a glassblowing class, zipline through the forests of the Adirondacks, parasail over Lake George, and go tubing, whitewater rafting, or ride a railbike along the Hudson River. You can even take a hot air balloon ride and experience the scenic Adirondack mountains like never before.

We sat down with Todd Monahan, founder, owner, and principal pilot, of SunKiss Ballooning, upstate NY’s finest hot air ballooning rides, to talk about all things ballooning. If a hot air balloon ride isn’t already on your bucket list, it will be after reading this!

Q: How did you get started in the ballooning business?

A: As a kid, I used to ride my bike to the Adirondack Balloon Festival every year and help anyone I could, chasing the balloons and helping to pack them away. Many years later, as a drug and alcohol abuse counselor, I challenged my clients to get involved with something they are passionate about. They turned it back on me, and I realized I had always wanted to fly a hot air balloon. So, I researched, talked to pilots, and started my training. Once I became a pilot, I wanted to fly in my childhood festival. However, they said I had to have a commercial pilot’s license…so I went through the process and got it. As a private pilot, I was able to fly friends and family, but as a commercial pilot, I realized I could start taking paid rides. It just grew from there; I get to do what I love and make a living from it.

Q: What does it take to become a hot air balloon pilot?

A: You have to become certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) by taking a test and passing a flight test with an FAA examiner. You must get 10 hours of instructional flight with a commercial pilot to qualify for that test. Commercial takes 35 hours, I believe.

Q: Take us through a flight with SunKiss Ballooning step-by-step. What can folks expect once they make a reservation?

A: Once a reservation is made, we have to get a pilot and enough crew for the specific balloon we will be taking. The balloon is chosen by the number of passengers booked. We have balloons that take two and even some that take 12-14 people. We watch the weather leading up to the day to make sure it won’t be raining, windy, or foggy.

The passengers meet us at a local airport and hop in a van with us, and we drive to a location in the community that is chosen based on the wind direction and speed. This is so that we have the most options for landing spots. A lot of times, we use a simple helium balloon to show us what it’s doing higher in the air at the location we are at.

Once we get to our location, we unpack everything from the trailer (basket, balloon envelope, and fan) and lay out the balloon. Everything gets hooked up, and then we start the fan. The balloon gets what we call tabbed in, meaning the top of the balloon is velcroed to the balloon. Once the balloon has that nice round shape, the pilot lights the burner, and the hot air lifts the balloon to its standing position. The passengers get in, and we take flight. The crew on the ground packs up the fan and chases us. We fly for about 40 mins to an hour and find a good landing spot. The crew gets permission from the land owner for us to be there and meets us there. We deflate and pack up the balloon, then head back to the airport for the post-flight champagne toast.

Q: What advice would you offer someone who is feeling apprehensive about taking a balloon ride?

A: It is not as scary as one might think. It’s actually very calm and peaceful, with amazing views. Many think it is like an adrenaline ride, but it is not. The basket doesn’t swing or anything. I’m even afraid of heights, but I still love Ballooning!

two hot air balloons over an open field

Q: Do you have any involvement with the Adirondack Balloon Festival?

A: I attended as a kid on my bike, chasing balloons. Now, I get to actually fly the balloons and hopefully inspire kids like myself. It’s wonderful to be a part of a large, 50-year tradition!

Q: Do you have a favorite balloon? We love the sloth holding onto a tree branch.

A: Actually, the sloth, Tico, is owned by my other business with my twin brother Scott. Monahan Airways is a special shape business that only has shapes like Tico, Ally the pink unicorn, Kermie the frog, Simba the huge lion, and a bright orange tiger. The shapes are definitely my favorite because of the crowd’s excitement and hype around them at festivals. For my business, probably my original balloons, the red, orange, and yellow ones, because of the brightness, noticeability, and nostalgia.

Q: What was your most memorable balloon ride?

A: The first time I flew in Albuquerque, New Mexico, because of the roar of the crowd. It’s the largest festival in the world; it’s like you know you’ve made it when you fly there. My brother and I call it “the Superbowl of Ballooning.”

Book your flight now and experience upstate New York from the sky! Adirondack Balloon Flights by SunKiss Ballooning has basket sizes to cater to any desired experience and number of fliers. They focus on safety and ensuring that you have memories to last a lifetime. It’s time to hit the skies!

And if you need somewhere to stay while checking off this bucket-list adventure, keep Lake George Campsites in mind! Our Lake George campground offers full hookup RV sites, tent sites, and cozy cottages. We are open until October 15, 2023, so there’s still plenty of time to book your camping adventure.

*photos provided by Adirondack Balloon Flights by SunKiss Ballooning*