In the late 1980s, the Hudson Chamber of Commerce was looking for a unique event to celebrate winter in the St. Croix Valley. One person involved in those discussions knew some hot air balloon pilots and asked them to show up the first weekend in February.

They did, and they have continued to show up every year since.

“It’s kind of a homecoming event, a break in winter,” said Evy Nerbonne, who ended her role as director of the Hudson Hot Air Affair in 2020 after 31 years. “People come to town, and businesses welcome visitors. We embrace winter instead of hiding from it.”

A light breeze moved hot air balloons over the St. Croix River and Interstate 94 on Feb. 7, 2020. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia
A light breeze moved hot air balloons over the St. Croix River and Interstate 94 on Feb. 7, 2020. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia

This year’s event will have the theme “Bringing Fun to 2021.” With many events being canceled or postponed due to the ongoing pandemic, the Hudson Hot Air Affair committee decided not to cancel. Instead, they are making changes to the event, keeping the health and safety of the community in mind.

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“People have had a really challenging year, and we feel it’s important to bring some fun to families and the Hudson community,” said Michelle Webb, HHAA president.

Virtual events have become popular during the pandemic, and the Hot Air Affair is no exception. They will have programming with balloons in the air, a drive-through balloon glow, and a candlestick event. Organizers expect fewer balloons to show up this year, and although there won’t be any public launch field access, they are adding live video coverage of pop-up launches if weather permits.

Ready to launch, Mark Nabor fires the burner to heat up his balloon Cloud Nine as part of the 2020 Hudson Hot Air Affair. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia
Ready to launch, Mark Nabor fires the burner to heat up his balloon Cloud Nine as part of the 2020 Hudson Hot Air Affair. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia

Hot air ballooning is a weather-dependent activity, but the February weekend has worked well for the Hudson event.

“We’ve never had a blizzard the first weekend of February,” Nerbonne said. “We have had cancellations when it was too warm out. When a warm front comes in, that usually brings wind and that can keep the balloons on the ground. We have flown in any temperature from 43 below to 55 above.”

WESTconsin Credit Union is returning as the corporate sponsor. Many area businesses sponsor a balloon during the Hot Air Affair, including some sponsors who have been involved every year.

A balloon floats past the water tower in Hudson during the media flight of the 2020 Hudson Hot Air Affair. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia
A balloon floats past the water tower in Hudson during the media flight of the 2020 Hudson Hot Air Affair. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia

“Most of our sponsors and balloons have been with us for 10 to 20 years,” Nerbonne said. “We have long-term relationships between pilots and our event.”

While sponsors who pay to support a balloon get a ride, no rides are sold to the public during the Hot Air Affair. However, individuals interested in hot air balloon rides throughout the year could contact Aamodts Hot Air Balloon Rides in Stillwater, Minn., at 651-351-0101 or see its website at www.aamodtsballoons.com.

If you go...

  • Name: Hudson Hot Air Affair
  • Website: hudsonhotairaffair.com/
  • Hours: First weekend in February. This year it is Feb. 5-7. See website for specific times for each event.
  • Cost: Free