Autumn Aloft balloon festival prepares revival after COVID-19 wiped out last year’s event

Launch of colorful hot air balloons at North 40 Fields during the 2019 Aloft Fall Balloon Festival. The event returns to Park City this weekend after activities steeped in the coronavirus pandemic last year.
Park Record File Photo

The Autumn Aloft Hot Air Balloon Festival is set to take off this year after COVID-19 concerns grounded things last year.

This year’s event, which is free and open to the public, will run Saturday and Sunday, organizer Meisha Ross said.

“We didn’t have it last year, so we’re looking forward to getting it off the ground this year,” Ross said, referring to the cancellation of last year’s event due to the pandemic. “We have so many special events in Park City, but Autumn Aloft is one that really touches the hearts of our community.”

Ross loves hearing the stories of longtime Park City residents who attended the first Autumn Aloft Festival in the 1990s.

“We brought this event back to Park City in 2014, and it was wonderful to hear people talk about what it was like to go to the festival as kids,” she said. “Then they tell me how great it is to be able to relive that with their own kids.”

The festival will kick off with a public launch at 8 a.m. Saturday at North 40 Fields, just behind Treasure Mountain Junior High School, Ross said. (See attached schedule).

“Another launch will take place on Sunday at the same time and place, and the launches take place when the pilots inflate their balloons and take off,” she said. “People can really get a chance to see what pilots need to get their balloons off the ground.”

While parking is available on the grounds of Park City High School and Treasure Mountain Junior High School, spaces fill up quickly, Ross said.

“We also don’t want people parking in surrounding neighborhoods, so we encourage attendees to use public transportation, bike or walk to launches,” she said.

In addition to the launches, Autumn Aloft will feature a “candlestick” event Saturday night on Main Street between 4th and 5th Streets, according to Ross.

Hot air balloon pilots light flames during the 2019 Autumn Aloft festival candlestick event on Main Street. The candlestick display returns to town on Saturday night and will feature a live DJ and opportunities for attendees to shoot their own flames.
Park Record File Photo

“The candlestick is when pilots just pull out their baskets and burners, without the balloon wraps,” she said. “Once it’s nice and dark, we’ll have a DJ play a few tunes to warm up the night, and the pilots will light their burners so the flames shoot out to the beat of the music.”

The candlestick is expected to last around 30 minutes, and there is an interactive component to it, Ross said.

“This is the event where we allow attendees to line up and fire the burners after the pilots are done,” she said. “It’s a way for people to get a glimpse of what pilots are doing under their balloons, and it’s nice to see how hot air balloons work.”

Autumn Aloft, like other hot air balloon events, is subject to weather conditions, including wind speed, and a launch may be delayed or canceled to ensure the safety of attendees and pilots, according to a festival press release.

With the safety of attendees and riders in mind, this year’s festival will not feature as many riders as in previous years, Ross explained.

“We usually have 24 balloons for the launches and 12 for the candlestick, but this year we invited 18 for the launches and eight for the candlestick,” she said. “We thought if we could reduce our footprint a bit, it might help protect people a bit more against COVID-19.”

The Autumn Aloft Balloon Festival typically includes 24 hot air balloons. Due to security concerns related to COVID-19, the organizers have invited 18 pilots this year.
Park Record File Photo

Autumn Aloft organizers will continue to monitor the health situation and update safety protocols on the festival website, Ross said.

“Because all Autumn Aloft events take place outdoors, they create an environment where people can maintain social distancing,” she said. “If attendees feel more comfortable wearing masks, we would recommend that they do so.”

While organizing the festival, scheduling riders, and securing the North 40 Fields is a lot of work, Ross has the reward of watching the community enjoy the events.

“Parkies are used to seeing hot air balloons in the sky, so it’s another thing to see them on the ground at North 40 Fields,” she said. “I love it when people realize how big and beautiful these balloons are when they see them up close.”