Tim Matykiewicz has a message for his Ahwatukee neighbors.
There’s no reason you shouldn’t be joining him at the Goodyear Ballpark this weekend for his ninth annual Arizona Balloon Classic.
For one thing, he said, the weather looks like it will be perfect – Matykiewicz, a promoter who owns Arizona Events Group ought to know because he’s been studying weather patterns the last three weeks.
Just as important for Ahwatukee and East Valley residents, he noted, the opening of the South Mountain Freeway cuts the traveling time by more than half.
“This new 202, without speeding, you can get to the ballpark in 25 minutes,” said Matykiewicz, who had spent 90 minutes each way when he was setting up his previous balloon festivals.
He’s expecting the festival – which drew 20,000 spectators last year – will draw even more because of easier access.
The festival, from Friday, Jan. 24, through Sunday, Jan. 26, offers up to 25 hot-air balloons from across the country – many of them in unusual shapes.
Since it goes into the evening Friday and Saturday, the glow of lighted balloons will make it a visual spectacle for young and old.
Balloon rides, tether rides, a free family fun zone, food trucks galore, stunt shows, live entertainment and other family-friendly activities and exhibits also comprise the event.
There also will be a number of “hare and the hound races” in which the first balloon, or “hare,” sets a target and the other balloons – the hounds – try to drop markers as close to the target as possible as they vie for a $2,500 purse.
“It’s sort of like darts from the sky, except you’re moving where the winds take you,” Matykiewicz said.
A portion of the proceeds from the festival will go to the Valley of the Sun United Way.
Matykiewicz works off and on for 11 months on this event, because his company owns it while he contracts his services for other events throughout the year, including several balloon festivals.
“This is our main production for the year,” he said, explaining while he “wrangles up the balloons for similar hot-air festivals,” the Arizona Balloon Classic requires his full attention.
“We’re all from soup to nuts on this one,” he said.
“We’re members of the Balloon Federation of America,” he said, explaining he draws participants from a directory of thousands of hot-air balloonists.
“We’re making this a kind of Chamber of Commerce event because a lot of them are looking into having a second home because balloon season back east is over. It’s either too cold, too windy or snowy or rainy for a balloon to go up.”
“We’ll get pilots mostly from California, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada and Utah,” he said, explaining they simply pack up their gear and drive here. Some, however, ship it on a plane.
To help prepare for the crowds – and then manage them during the weekend – Matykiewicz and his two full-time staffers rely on a part-time staff member, five hired interns from Grand Canyon University, a “leadership committee” of seven festival captains and then several hundred volunteers.
Since the hot-air balloon flights – both as spectacle for the folks on the ground as well as those who venture into a ride on one – depends on calm, clear weather, Matykiewicz and his team start watching weather patterns three weeks out.
“The weather is going to be beautiful, perfect for us out there next weekend,” he confidently predicts. “That’s the forecast and while it could change, it won’t change much.
“We watch the fronts moving in especially from the Northwest – that’s usually where they come from – and watch the jet stream and the closer we get to the event, the more accurate we can predict the weather.”
“So we’re not nervous this year about it,” he added.
Matykiewicz does advise visitors to “layer up” if they come.
“It’s going to be perfect in the daytime with temperatures in the 70s, but man, when the sun goes down and before it goes up, it gets pretty chilly.”