Balloon Fiesta: Interview with Balloon Judge Patricia Rudy-Baese

It’s early morning, roughly 4 am and you are ready to make the 50-mile journey from Santa Fe to Albuquerque. Getting up this early may not be something you’re used to but it’s worth the sleepiness and the traffic that awaits. You have to make it to the International Balloon Fiesta to witness first hand all the magic of this truly spectacular event. Once a year, many Santa Feans make this journey to Albuquerque to take part in the event that brings all New Mexicans together.

Most of us attend the Balloon Fiesta for the big accent days on the weekends or the wonderful night glow but there is a whole other element to Balloon Fiesta you may not have seen before the pilot competitions. The competitions range from dropping large sandbags onto targets to more elaborate games such as the “Cutter” where pilots drop sandbags onto a boat. Pilots can even compete in a game of golf where they try to drop a bag into a golf hole. recently spoke to Patricia Rudy-Baese, one of the many judges that help to make the pilot competitions a possibility.

What is your position at the Balloon Fiesta?

I am a scoring official for Balloon Fiesta on the scoring team. This is my 10th year doing this. Our responsibilities are to accurately score for the markers the pilots use during competition. It involves a lot more than it looks like. We put out the targets, do the measuring and repairs because the prizes for pilots with the highest scores are pretty substantial. The pilots always want accurate scores so there is always two people measuring each marker. They can be thrown from any height as long as he/she feels they have a good beat on the target.

There are all kinds of targets. There are simple “X” targets, as well as maximum distance double drops and minimum distance double drops. These have two triangles lying either point to point or broadside to broadside about ten feet apart. Some pilots have to drop two baggies to either get the maximum distance measured between targets or least distance.

How many balloons typically compete?

Around 250-300 balloons so it can take a while to get all those scores compiled every day and the pilots want to know how they did every day.

It sounds like the pilots take this very seriously.

Oh absolutely! The pilots are dead serious but that is why we have two people recording the measurements for every single marker. The pilot at the end of the week with the highest score gets the grand prize. They also divide the balloons into groups depending on size.

This is really interesting because you hear a lot about the Mass Ascension and other competitions like the judging of the balloons in general but you don’t hear a lot about the “sportsman” competitions that are going on throughout the festival.

There are two weekends for the festival and they are huge events, with hundreds of thousands of people. On the first Saturday pretty much every balloon that can fly, will fly. It’s impressive with just the amount of balloons but if you go during the week, the crowds are smaller and you get to see the competition.

You’ve been doing this for 10 years now so what is it about the Balloon Fiesta that drives you to do this every year?

Well, it’s phenomenal! It’s very exciting to watch a little kid see all this and experience this in such awe of what’s going on.  You also get appreciation when you see elderly people who may not be particularly mobile and seeing them be able to be out and enjoy something that beautiful and giving them that feeling of still being apart of everything. It’s very rewarding.

The competitions take place Monday-Friday with no competitions on Wednesday. Please visit – – for more specific information.

Written by Henry C. Valdez on behalf of Mark Banham

Mark Banham

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