Infinity and Beyond Ballooning is an Adventure and Great Gift Idea (5 stars)

Have you always wanted to ride in a hot air balloon? Everyone does. Try Infinity and Beyond Ballooning, which is run by Jason Boucher in Salem, New Hampshire, just an hour’s drive north of Boston. By day, Jason runs a drywall company with his father, who also runs a balloon company, A&A Balloon Rides. On weekend mornings, they run balloon flights for those who want to check off a bucket list item. It’s a unique experience!

Check in with Jason the night before your trip, to ensure that the forecast is right. The wind must be very slow or still for a safe balloon flight. A slow wind ensures that, at the end of your flight, that Jason can drop you accurately into a safe landing zone.

Flight leave at dawn in Salem, which is also to reduce wind — when the sun is low on the horizon, it doesn’t hear the air as much as midday, and thus adds less wind. Look for the brightly lit sign for Edward Jones Investments when you’re parking, and don’t be late on purpose, but know that you’re asked to arrive 30 minutes ahead of launch. From there you drive out to the actual launch site, which varies depending on the wind. Setting up the balloon takes just 20 minutes and is interesting to see.

Flights range from 30 to 75 minutes, but Jason brings 100 minutes of fuel if needed to get to a safe landing spot. Balloons cannot be driven, except up and down, so it all depends on which landing destinations present themselves. A GPS tracker and walkie-talkie help Jason keep in touch with his chase vehicle, the truck that follows the balloon as it goes. Sometimes, to land, Jason will throw down a rope and be gently pulled and very accurately pulled to the ground by the chase vehicle.

The balloon ride is very smooth, and because you ride with the wind, you don’t feel any wind when you’re up above. The basket is made from wicker, with leather siding, a wooden bottom, and four tanks of propane to heat the hot air, which expands the balloon causing it to rise (being less dense than the surrounding cold air). Standing up for an hour was no problem, but the basket was crowded, and you can’t shift your weight suddenly, because that could cause the basket to swing.

I was surprised that we didn’t get so high in the air. Jason told us that we went 300 feet up at times, but much of our trip was just skimming the tops of trees and rooftops 100 feet from the ground. Also, try to pick a day when you’ll have the balloon basket to yourself, because when it’s full up, freedom of movement is limited, and you won’t have room for a private moment with a friend or loved one. Perhaps as a result, it wasn’t quite the life-changing experience that I’ve gotten skydiving, parasailing, and whitewater rafting, but it was beautiful to see it and we got great photos, too. It was a beautiful Sunday morning in late September and at one point we could see the faraway Boston skyline. We had good views of ponds, building complexes, and trees all around, and someone even waved to us from her porch.

Jason told stories from his ballooning adventures and we learned quite a bit about the sport, though there was no polished tour narration with jokes ready to go. We learned that in the summer, Jason races snowmobiles on the water instead of jet skis. (That’s quite something! It’s a challenge because if you ever stop moving forward, you sink and damage your engine.) We learned that buying a hot air balloon costs about the same to buy a truck as to buy a balloon, some $16,000 or more. Landing was very easy and we hardly felt the bump, in a parking lot.

Infinity and Beyond Ballooning is a full service, where Jason and his wife Michelle do almost all the work. At the end, we helped pull a metal ring across the balloon, pushing the air out, but that was so interesting that it was part of the novel experience, not a chore. Afterwards, we shared champagne and a picnic of cheese and crackers, and got a certificate of success and fridge magnet.

Although we didn’t get as high as we expected, and as people who aren’t early risers we should have asked for the real meeting time than the stated meeting time, the balloon trip was far more comfortable and safe seeming than expected. It’s a remarkable, unusual experience, that makes a great surprise gift. I’ll give Infinity and Beyond Ballooning a full 5 stars!

Here’s some video from our trip.