RAINBOW RYDERS – HOT AIR BALLOONS
Taking flight to lofty heights gives the adventurer in all of us an exhilarating new perspective on our world.
In 1970, a young boy named Scott Appleman and his family moved from Los Angeles, California to Albuquerque, New Mexico. In February 1971, the very first world hot air balloon championships would take place in the city where he lived. The 12-year-old seventh-grader became incredibly curious over these hot air balloons that could reach heights of up to 3,000 feet. He decided to ditch his class one day and make his way to the event being held at the New Mexico State Fairgrounds. Fascinated with these huge billowy balloons, he volunteered as a balloon chase crew member and went on his first ride. Captivated by his adventure into the sky, he was hooked. Little did he know this experience would launch him into an amazing career that would lead to world recognition.
His family has always had an entrepreneurial spirit. His father owned his own company, a plumbing, heating, air conditioning, and electrical service company in Albuquerque. His younger brother also ran his own company. Appleman was the eldest son and helped out in his father’s business. He was expected to take over the family business one day. After graduating with degrees in finance and economics from the University of New Mexico Anderson School of Management, he dutifully worked full time in his father’s company for six years. He yearned for something more, and felt something larger was in store for him, a different calling, one where the sky’s the limit, literally.
In 1983, Appleman received his Private Pilot Lighter-Than-Air rating, with airborne heater FAA type endorsement for his pilot’s license. He received his commercial pilot’s license in 1984. “I’ve flown as often as I could in order to obtain as much experience as possible for flying hot air balloons at this particular time. I did not necessarily set out to start a hot air balloon ride business or corporate promotions company,” says Appleman.
In 1985 he left the family business and became a full-time hot air balloon pilot. Initially, he was flying balloon rides for companies throughout the Albuquerque area. He also offered pilot services for corporate promotions at balloon events across the country. About a year later, he realized that this could be his calling. He started the Rainbow Ryders Hot Air Balloon Ride Company and began with 2-passenger and 3-passenger balloons. Rides were given to tourists and those who wanted to enjoy panoramic vistas around the Albuquerque area. Passengers were treated to post-ride celebratory toasts, refreshments, and received a commemorative flight certificate.
Company Takes to New Heights
“Let’s make this clear, Rainbow Ryders would never have had this type of opportunity if it wasn’t for the community of Albuquerque and its reputation of being the hot air ballooning capital of the world,” explains Appleman. For the past 20 years, his company has had the privilege to be the official ride operator for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the world’s largest balloon event, flying upwards of 3,000 passengers per week during the annual October event. In 2018, the event estimated guest visits of 886,037 with 667 registered balloons and 623 pilots.
Appleman has his corporate office in Albuquerque and a facility in Phoenix, Arizona housing an additional office, event center, and retail shop. The company also operates out of the Hotel Eleganté in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In addition to these areas of balloon ride operations, the company is the producer of the annual Labor Day Lift Off in Colorado Springs. In 2018, over 165,000 folks attended the city’s heritage event that had 77 hot air balloons, concerts, and concessions
Soaring Above the Rest
As in any business at a startup level there are many lessons to be learned as well as knowledge gained. It seems Rainbow Ryders managed to go through all those experiences which has led the company to what it is today. Appleman says, “I am particularly proud of the staff that I have cultivated who have helped me grow this small business into the largest ride company in the United States.”
The company has over 80 team members and flies over 25,000 passengers per year with 28 aircraft operating in Albuquerque, Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Colorado Springs. Other than hot air balloon rides, the company does corporate representation with high-level brands such as the Dos Equis Beer, Intel, Phillips 66, Ocean Spray Cranberries, and many others over the last 37 years.
Appleman enjoyed the opportunity to do some rather incredible things over the years as head of Rainbow Ryders. This includes the opportunity to fly an Ocean Spray Cranberries balloon out of Central Park in New York City in 1999, and flights over the Super Bowl, NCAA events, Indy car racing, NASCAR, and many more for corporate promotions. Although the corporate promotions are not the primary driver of sales, they are what he most enjoys personally. The real bread and butter is flying passengers.
On reflection of his career, Appleman says, “It is the biggest privilege that I have been afforded to be a part of filling peoples wishes, their special occasions, wedding proposals, anniversaries, birthdays, and celebrations of life.” With Rainbow Ryders doing more than 2,000 flights per year in the cities that they serve, they have had the privilege to be part of many, many people’s memories, and many more to come.
One would think being President and CEO running a company in multi-states would be enough to stay busy, but not for Appleman. According to the company’s website, he has held positions on the Board of Directors of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (AIBF) 1986-1991, Chairman of the Board for the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau 2001-2002, Board of Directors of the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau 1993 to current. He was the originator and organizer of AIBF’s “Balloon Glow” 1987 through 1992, co-originator of AIBF’s “Special Shape Rodeo” 1989 and 1990, and AIBF’s “Albuquerque Aloft” 1991.
Appleman was honored with the Heritage Award from the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in 2013, and currently serves as the President of the Anderson Abruzzo International Balloon Museum Foundation board of directors.
Rainbow Ryders is a high-flying act that’s hard to beat and perfect for anyone’s bucket list. Learn more at rainbowryders.com.