Whitetracks - Winter Activities and Snow Sports

Hot Air Ballooning

Hot Air Ballooning, Courchevel, Meribel, French Alps, France

Get Adobe Flash player

Winter Activities & Snow Sports


Hot Air Ballooning

£255 / person

Travelling in a hot air balloon is a remarkably serene, peaceful and enjoyable experience; you don't feel any breeze since the balloon moves with the wind. Without the rushing winds normally associated with high altitudes, the experience of flying in a hot air balloon seems very safe and calming - you simply lift off the ground and move with the air in the atmosphere.

If you actually need to get somewhere, a hot air balloon is a fairly impractical vehicle. You can't really steer it, and it only travels as fast as the wind blows. But if you simply want to enjoy the experience of flying..... There's nothing quite like it!

 hot air ballooning - operation times
 Daily weather permitting
 0900hrs – Approximately 1100hrs / 1200hrs

Hot Air Ballooning takes place on a daily basis weather permitting, if it is snowing, raining, too cloudy or if the wind is blowing in the wrong direction the hot air ballooning activity will not operate. Unlike Britain and other parts of the world where there are two flights; morning and early evening hot air ballooning in the mountains can ONLY operate in the morning due to the takeoff altitude and flying conditions. Arriving at the takeoff site at about 0830hrs you will be taking off for your mountain ballooning experience at around 0900hrs (lift opening time) the flight will take anything from 1-2 hours.


 Hot Air Ballooning - Location
 Courchevel Altiport
 Courchevel 1850

Hot Air Ballooning is not a Meribel activity, the Hot Air Ballooning activity departs from the Altiport in Courchevel 1850. Due to the early start involved, to take part in Hot Air Ballooning it will be necessary to get transport from Meribel in order to get to the takeoff site as the lift system does not officially open till 0900hrs. With the lift system not open you will NOT be able to ski to the Hot Air Ballooning takeoff site in time. From Meribel centre it will take about 40-45 minutes to drive to the takeoff site at Courchevel Altiport, Courchevel 1850.

 How to get there from Meribel
  • TAXI


 Hot Air Ballooning – Operation / DURATION / Format
 Hot Air Balloon inflation 15-20 minutes
 flight 1-2 hours
 deflation and pack away 20-25 minutes

If you are driving yourself or catching a taxi to Courchevel Altiport, you should arrive to meet the pilot at least 5-10 minutes before the requested time. The pilot might keep you waiting but PLEASE do not keep them waiting.


When you get to the takeoff site you will be asked to help with the inflating of the balloon, much of the work comes at the beginning and the end of the flight, with the inflating and deflating of the balloon. The crew will firstly unroll the balloon on the ground laying it out flat for easy inflation; they will then attach the burner system to the basket. The balloon envelop will then be attached, once the envelope is laid out using a powerful fan at its base the inflating will begin. When there is enough air in the balloon, the pilot will blast the burner flame into the envelope mouth. This will heat the air, building pressure until the balloon inflates all the way and starts to lift off the ground.

The ground crew members will then hold the basket down until the pilot and the passengers are on board. The balloon basket is attached to the ground crew vehicle until the last minute, so the balloon won't be blown away before it is ready to launch. When everything is set, the ground crew will release the balloon and the pilot will fire a steady flame from the burner. As the air heats up, the balloon lifts of the ground. This entire process will take about 15-20 minutes.

When in the air even the most experienced pilots do not have complete control over the balloons path. Usually, wind conditions give pilots very few options. Consequently, you can't really pilot a hot air balloon along an exact course; it is very rare that a pilot would be able to fly the balloon back to the starting point. Piloting a hot air balloon is largely improvised for this reason hot air balloons have a ground crew that will follow the balloon by car to see where it lands. When the Hot Air Balloon lands the ground crew should be there to help with the landing, the collection of passengers and importantly the equipment (If they are not there for the actual landing they won’t be far behind).

Occasionally, when there is no wind in the mountains the Hot Air Balloon will only cover a very short distance mainly just travelling up and down in one spot before landing. The duration of the flight is also quite unpredictable with flights ranging from 1-2 hours, as soon as the balloon is in the air; the pilot is constantly looking for suitable landing sites, in case there is an emergency. What makes it difficult in the mountains is that there are very few places large enough for a Hot Air Balloon to land if the pilot can not find a suitable area to land the flight will variably be longer than normal until a suitable place can be found.


The landing process combined with deflating and re-packing the balloon envelope, takes a while longer than the inflation process. When the pilot is ready to land, the pilot will discuss the landing site with the ground crew (via an onboard radio) importantly telling them where it is. In the mountains where everything is on a slope or built up with chalets the pilot will need to find a large enough space without power lines and Lift cables with enough room to lay out the balloon.

The balloon landing can be a little rough, but the pilot will bump along the ground to stop the balloon gradually, minimising the impact. If the crew has made it to the landing site, they will hold the basket down once it has landed. If the balloon isn't in a good position, the crew will try and pull it along the ground to a better spot.

If possible the ground crew will set out a ground tarp, to protect the balloon from wear and tear. The pilot will then open the parachute valve, so the air can escape out of the top of the balloon. The ground crew will grab the cord attached to the top of the balloon, and will pull the balloon over onto the tarp. Once the balloon envelope is down on the ground, the crew will push the air out. When the balloon is flattened, the crew will then pack it into a stuff sack.

Once the Hot Air Balloon has been packed away and the basket is back on the trailer, the Pilot (depending on the Hot Air Ballooning company Whitetracks has booked you with) will crack open the Champagne. Once you have drunk the Champagne or if they don’t supply Champagne as soon as everything is packed away the ground crew and pilot will transport you and the other passengers back to Courchevel Altiport 1850.

If you have Hired a Whitetracks Host you will not need to travel back to Courchevel Altiport the Host will pick you up and transfer you straight from the landing site to your chalet, hotel or apartment in Meribel, Whitetracks Host


 Hot Air Ballooning - RESTRICTIONS
 Minimum age 12 years old

To take part in Hot Air Ballooning there is a minimum age of 12 years old, this age is really just a guideline as generally at the age of 12 you will be a height at which you will be able to see over the edge of the basket. If you can not see over the edge of the basket you can not take part in the Hot Air Ballooning activity.


 Hot Air Ballooning - NUMBERS
 Minimum 2 – Maximum 5 in a single balloon
 Possible for up to 30 people in 7 individual hot air balloons

Unlike some Hot Air Balloons in Britain and other parts of the world where they can carry up to 20 people at a time the high altitudes of the balloon mountain flying govern the sizes of the balloons that can be used. For safety reasons the Hot Air Balloons must remain small as larger balloons have a higher flying level.

Hot Air Ballooning can cater for numbers as small as two and a maximum of five in a single balloon. For larger groups Hot Air Ballooning is capable of catering up to thirty people in seven different Hot Air Balloons but it means that Whitetracks would have to bring in pilots and balloons from the surrounding areas. For larger groups wanting to take part in the Hot Air Ballooning activity it is necessary to book in advance to ensure availability. Up to 30 people in 7 Hot Air Balloons - Advance Booking Essential.


 Hot Air Ballooning - SUGGESTED ITEMS
 Ski Clothing - Jacket, ski pants, hat, gloves, glasses & Normal shoes

Hot Air Ballooning is an early morning daytime activity, when you arrive at Courchevel Altiport the sun is unlikely to have risen meaning you will be helping to inflate the balloon in the shade. PLEASE dress warm as it will be extremely cold and will only start to warm up as the sun comes up over the mountains. Once in the balloon and in the air you will be travelling with the wind meaning there will not be any wind chill factor the only cold you will feel will be the actual temperature of the air. Wear ski clothing - jacket, ski pants, hat gloves and take sun glasses because without the wind chill it will still be cold. Whilst standing in the balloon looking over the edge of the basket there will be a contrast of temperatures with your face and front being cold and your back getting warm / hot every time the burners are ignited.


 Hot Air Ballooning - SAFETY
 Wind and Weather

Before the flight the pilot will call a weather service to find out about climate and wind conditions in the area. Pilots only fly when the weather is close to ideal - when skies are clear and wind conditions are normal. Storms are extremely hazardous for hot air balloons because of the danger of a lightening strike. Even rain and snow is a problem because it decreases visibility and damages the balloon material and while you need a nice wind current to have a good flight, very strong winds could easily wreck the balloon.

Pilots also call the weather service to get a rough idea of which way the balloon will travel, and how they should manoeuvre once they're in the air. In the air, the pilot will use an onboard altimeter, variometer and their own observations to find the right altitude. Reaching the right altitude is pretty tricky because there is at least a 30-second delay between blasting the burners and the balloon actually lifting. Balloon pilots have to operate the appropriate controls just a little before they want to rise and shut them off a little before they want to stop rising.



Hot air balloons are based on a very basic scientific principle: warmer air rises in cooler air. Essentially, hot air is lighter than cooler air, because it has less mass per unit of volume. A cubic foot of air weighs roughly 28grams. If you heat that air by 100 degrees F, it weighs about 7 grams less. Therefore, each cubic foot of air contained in a hot air balloon can lift about 7 grams. That's not much, but this is why the balloons are so large - To lift 1,000 pounds, you need about 65,000 cubic feet of hot air.

To keep the balloon rising, you need a way to reheat the air. Hot air balloons do this with a burner positioned under an open balloon envelope. As the air in the balloon cools, the pilot can reheat it by firing the burner. Modern hot air balloons heat the air by burning propane which is stored in compressed liquid form in lightweight cylinders positioned in the balloon basket. The intake hose runs down to the bottom of the cylinder, so it can draw the liquid out.

Because the propane is highly compressed in the cylinders, it flows quickly through the hoses to the heating coil. The heating coil is simply a length of steel tubing arranged in a coil around the burner. When the balloonist starts up the burner, the propane flows out in liquid form and is ignited by a pilot light. As the flame burns, it heats up the metal in the surrounding tubing. When the tubing becomes hot, it heats the propane flowing through it. This changes the propane from a liquid to a gas, before it is ignited. This gas makes for a more powerful flame and more efficient fuel consumption.

In most modern balloons, the envelope is constructed from long nylon gores, reinforced with sewn-in webbing. the gores, which extend from the base of the envelope to the crown, comprise of a number of smaller panels. Nylon works very well in balloons because it is lightweight, but it is also fairly sturdy and has a high melting temperature. The skirt, the nylon at the base of the envelope, is coated with special fire-resistant material, to keep the flame from igniting the balloon.

The hot air won't escape from the hole at the bottom of the envelope because buoyancy keeps it moving up. If the pilot continually fires the fuel jets, the balloon will continue to rise. There is an upper altitude limit; however, since eventually the air becomes so thin that the buoyant force is too weak to lift the balloon. The buoyant force is equal to the weight of air displaced by the balloon, so a larger balloon envelope will generally have a higher upper altitude limit than a smaller balloon.

Most hot air balloons use a wicker basket for the passenger compartment. Wicker works very well because it is sturdy, flexible and relatively lightweight. The flexibility helps with balloon landings: In a basket made of more rigid material, passengers would feel the brunt of the impact force. Wicker material flexes a little, absorbing some of the energy.


Piloting a balloon takes skill, but the controls are actually very simple. To lift the balloon, the pilot moves a control that opens up the propane valve. As it is turned on the flow of gas increases, so the flame grows in size. The pilot can increase the vertical speed by blasting a larger flame to heat the air more rapidly. Additionally, many hot air balloons have a control that opens a second propane valve. This valve sends propane through a hose that bypasses the heating coils. This lets the pilot burn liquid propane, instead of propane in gas form this produces a less efficient, weaker flame, but is much quieter than burning gas.

Hot air balloons also have a cord to open the parachute valve at the top of the envelope. When the pilot pulls the attached cord, some hot air can escape from the envelope, decreasing the inner air temperature. This causes the balloon to slow its ascent. If the pilot keeps the valve open long enough, the balloon will sink.

Essentially, These are the only controls - pilots can manoeuvre horizontally by changing their vertical position, because wind blows in different directions at different altitudes. To move in a particular direction, a pilot ascends and descends to the appropriate level, and rides with the wind. Since wind speed generally increases as you get higher in the atmosphere, pilots can also control horizontal speed by changing altitude.



  • The British Balloon and Airship Club
  • The British Association of Balloon Operators
  • Hot Air Ballooning | Links | Forum


please check out the other whitetracks divisions websites