There’s nothing like looking down at our scenic community and enjoying the peace and quiet – all provided by a hot air balloon ride. For many years, balloon pilot and manager Kris Braden has enjoyed this occurrence on a frequent basis.
Braden summarized his involvement in ballooning during a recent interview at his home in Taos. “When I was 14, I received my student license. At age 16, I signed up for and received my private license. Then, at age 18, the commercial license became a reality. Every year I turned these ages when I was eligible for a license, I took care of business,” explained Braden, “and got my license right away.”
When Braden was 7 years old, his dad purchased his first balloon as a hobby – to provide the family with a fun way to participate together. “The joke was that people said I was born in a balloon. My dad took me along to fly, and eventually he started selling rides to pay for expenses. Then, I learned how to fly a balloon from my dad’s employees,” said Braden. He initially learned to fly in Albuquerque, but has since worked with the craft in many locations.
Braden currently contracts through Pueblo Balloon Company as a pilot and general manager. The company’s owner possesses three other balloon businesses: Balloons Over the Rainbow in St. Louis, Missouri; World Balloon of Albuquerque; and Verde Valley Balloon in Cottonwood, Arizona. Braden’s duties with the company include lead pilot, paperwork, flying, running the crew and vehicle maintenance.
Hot air ballooning is a prominent factor in Braden family life. Braden, a third-generation native of Albuquerque, listed his grandfather, Richard Braden, as “The Golden Terror.” His parents, Davene and Richard Morgan Braden, set an example for their children as balloon enthusiasts. They owned Beautiful Balloon Company in Albuquerque for a number of years until the couple moved to Lake Havasu, Arizona. The move didn’t change the love of the sport, however. Kris Braden's parents own the Lake Havasu Balloon Hospital, a repair station. In addition, they own the U.S. Parts Warehouse as the Southwest dealership for Ultra Magic Balloons, a company that builds the balloons in Spain. Kris Braden describes the operation as “same building, different businesses.” His brother, Richard Allen Braden, owns Balloon Repair Station in Albuquerque and his sister, Kaylene, works as a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines.
Like his parents before him, Kris Braden shares his passion for ballooning with his own family: his wife, Jennifer; daughter, Krisha, 20, of Mesa, Arizona (when she’s in town); and Kaje, 4. “Jen is the heart of the family, and she helps the family function. She runs the house, keeps the books and runs our daughter, who loves to play dress-up and watch Disney movies. Jen likes to read books. I call her the stay-at-home mom with three jobs,” he said.
When Braden pilots a flight, he begins early in the day to take advantage of favorable winds. Usually, the flight ends by noon. The busy season begins on Memorial Day and ends in October, but if weather conditions allow, flying becomes available anytime.
During winter months, Braden’s work site switches to Taos Ski Valley. There, he serves as assistant supervisor of the parking lot, usually from October to April. In October, he prepares for the season, including hiring personnel. His duties include supervising the crew in the absence of Dean Romero, head supervisor. Braden drives, parks cars, deals with paperwork and department heads.
When there’s free time and Braden is needed, he helps at Hawk Mechanical. Other activities that occupy his spare time include skiing in winter, swimming and picnics in the summer. He especially enjoys “Do Nothing Days” that involve watching movies on the couch, eating food in bed and eating breakfast for dinner.
A favorite meal consists of a burrito with refried beans and green chile. Braden enjoys all movies, but the "Fast and the Furious" collection is a favorite. “Of course, it’s always a good day when I go ballooning,” added Braden. Not all of Braden’s free time remains leisurely, he laughed, because of his honey-do list.
Kris Braden’s life is busy between jobs and family, but he said he manages to keep a balance, helped by the peace and quiet of the beautiful Taos skies.