With the Conner Prairie 1859 Balloon Voyage regular season now being over, it is appropriate to explain the answer to one of our most common questions out at the balloon, “What do you do with the balloon during the winter?”
One common misconception is that we deflate our balloon at the end of each season; however, this is not true. We leave the balloon inflated year-round for a number of reasons, but most importantly is the fact that it would cost somewhere around $60,000 in helium alone to re-fill in the spring. Not to mention a crew of about 50 people working somewhere close to 16 hours in addition to the filling of 400 sandbags, weighing 50 pounds each. Needless to say, it would be a rather labor-intensive process.
How does the balloon survive through the brutal Indiana winter climate? Believe it or not, the balloon is least likely to be damaged due to weather during the winter months due to a lack of strong wind storms and severe weather. The biggest threat, as you can probably guess, is snow. Snow typically accumulates on the top third of the balloon, which is roughly 6,000 square feet worth of space that needs snow removed. 6,000 square feet would be like shoveling an average width, 600 foot long driveway. You can imagine the amount of weight and stress this puts on the balloon, which is why it is important that we remove snow from the top of the balloon whenever it exceeds one inch of accumulation, as soon as possible.
How do we get the snow off the top of the balloon? It is a relatively simple, yet complex process. We have climbing gear which allows us to climb and traverse the balloon when needed for routine maintenance and repairs. We climb the balloon’s netting, like that of a rope ladder as we are connected to a series of climbing ropes. Once we reach the top of the balloon, we permanently anchor ourselves with a strong, thicker, stationary rope which we attached to a steel ring on the North Pole of the balloon. This allows us to move freely around the balloon without the fear of falling or ropes/climbing gear failing. To remove the snow we use a push broom or a shovel, and carefully push the snow off the side. An average, 4-6 inch snowfall will take somewhere between 2-4 hours to remove all of the snow.
You can learn more about our snow removal process and winter upkeep by watching a short YouTube clip we created last winter: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D8XvORNqIRY