Meet the Team
Asheville Hot Air Balloon’s talented team of fourteen “chasers” is as lively and colorful as any of their balloons. They laugh constantly, can finish each other’s sentences, and they skillfully ensure that lift-offs and landings are performed expertly and feel light as a feather.
The team shares a wealth of knowledge, years of experience, and a genuine enjoyment for producing great hot air balloon experiences for passengers.
Co-owner Danny Smith (Pilot)
Danny has loved watching hot air ballooning since he was eight years old. Growing up next to a field used for landing the colorful and gentle giants, Smith decided early on he wanted to learn the ropes as a “chaser”. His enthusiasm has resulted in his family and friends being long time members of the “chase” crew.
“Chasing” means keeping a constant track of where the wind is taking the balloon,” says Smith. “We need to keep it in sight, and be ready. When the pilot has a clear enough area to land, they throw a rope over the side, so “chasers” can grab it and pull the balloon down to ground. With a vast terrain of mountains, forest and valleys in the area, and a plethora of country roads, keeping up with a balloon can be a challenge in itself.
“Since wind is unpredictable it can be quite a chase sometimes,” Smith continues, “When the balloon suddenly tours down into a valley, we have to know which roads will get us there the fastest.That’s when the adrenalin starts pumping; because when the balloon is ready to land, you want four or five strong people to be in place to grab it, and steer it just to avoid landing in people’s back yards, pools, gardens…”
Co-owner Rick Bowers (Pilot)
“I love to fly! My dad, a private pilot, took me for my first flight at age 5 in a Cessna trainer, I have harbored an intense passion for flight ever since. I started flying airplanes in the ’80s. When the opportunity to become a Asheville Hot Air Balloons partner presented itself, I jumped at the opportunity. My motives were purely self- center… spend the mornings doing what I love – flying, while viewing these spectacular mountains. I still love the sport but get even greater satisfaction sharing with others (passengers) this magnificent country of Western North Carolina.”
Jimmy and Jennifer Bowers (Rick's brother and sister in-law)
Just say the words “Hot Air Balloon” to week-end chasers Jimmy and Jennifer Bowers, and smiles light up their faces. After hundreds of balloon trips and wild chases they continue to describe ballooning as “thrilling, absolutely awesome, and incredible”.
Garrison Bowers (Rick's son)
“I like flying; it’s such a majestic feeling. There’s elation. But, chasing is a rush. I like it better than flying only because I love to see the balloon coming down and meet the challenge of doing a perfect landing. It’s a different challenge every time. The experience is never the same.”
Mike says he is afraid of heights, but likes riding in hot air balloons. “You’re actually kind of motionless, so it’s not uncomfortable. The views are really beautiful, too, so you kind of forget you’re up high. I like chasing, though, because your adrenalin gets going; keeping up with where the balloon is going, figuring out how to get to where the wind just swept it. That gets exciting.”
Sammy Smith: (Danny’s dad) “I love the people I meet; it’s amazing how many folks haven’t ever been up in a balloon before, and I like seeing their enjoyment. Danny flew the balloon when I had my first ride – he was only 14 years old. That was the best thing in my life.”
“The grand kids, Trent, and Kolbie, also love to fly; and you know that’s it’s got to be pretty fun if it keeps their interest. There’s no reason to worry about heights on a balloon ride, as there’s no depth perception really; it’s not like climbing up and looking off from the top of a building”.
Phil Smith: (Danny’s uncle) “I never particularly had an interest until Danny talked my mother, who is 77 and deathly, afraid of heights, into going up in a balloon. She absolutely loved it, and I was not going to let her out-do me. I have loved it ever since. It’s a great challenge every time; you never know which way the wind is going to take it. It’s never boring, always different, and always exciting.”
Allen Weinbarger: “I started chasing balloons with Danny when we were about 16 years old. It’s peaceful, but the adventure feeling is there, too. Ballooning is pure enjoyment, and has been an inspiration to me to follow through with getting my pilots, then commercial pilot’s license.”
Jim Barnett (Pilot): “The saying goes, My first flight cost me two hundred dollars and the second flight cost me thirty thousand dollars. My wife, Jane says, He is always happy when he is flying.”
Alex Pope: “It’s so beautiful. I love to watch the balloons in the air, and the mechanicals are part of the beauty of the experience. We do repairs here, too, and that’s an art also.We like meeting people who are up for the adventure.”
Gabriel Latina: “The first time I tried chasing, that was it. It’s such a beautiful thing to watch, from setting it up, to getting it down.”
Kyley Cross: “I was afraid of heights until my first hot air balloon ride. You’re traveling with the wind, so there’s no bouncing around. The views are spectacular. I love it.”
Kolbie Smith: (Danny’s son) “I like balloon rides. It’s pretty up in a balloon.”
Passengers: “The crew is terrific!” we often hear. “A big thank you for your help and kindness and for organizing the trip. Words are not sufficient to express our gratitude.Without going into much more dramatics, let me just put in record my family’s happiness and wonderful experience”