The Autumn Aloft Balloon Festival is ready to take off.
The event, which is free and open to the public, is scheduled to kick off at 8 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, September 17 and 18 at North 40 Fields, 2530 Kearns Blvd., organizer Meisha Ross said.
“We invited 18 pilots this year,” she said. “We’ve had up to 22 or 24, but we’re really comfortable having 18 this year.”
Pilots come from all over Intermountain West, Ross said.
“We have one pilot who is usually from the Kanab area and several from Salt Lake,” she said. “Some are from Park City, and we have some from Provo.”
Some of the balloon sponsors this year include REMAX, which has been part of the festival since its revival in 2014, and Chick-Fil-A is another sponsor this year, according to Ross.
The balloon launch is scheduled for 8 a.m. on both days, as has been the case in the past, and the only issue preventing the launch would be high winds and other inclement weather, Ross said.
“Hot air balloon events are subject to weather conditions including wind speed, wind direction and gusts,” she said. “Safety is the #1 priority at all Autumn Aloft events.”
Autumn Aloft does not sell hot air balloon rides, but there are a few sponsorship opportunities that include them. For more information, visit autumnaloft.com/sponsorships.html.
Additionally, no drones, smoking or pets are allowed at the festival for safety reasons, she said.
Over the years, the festival has remained much the same, Ross said.
“We kind of feel like Autumn Aloft is one of those events that tries not to change too much,” she said. “It’s magic like that, and we really like to honor that.”
While there is free parking on the Park City High School grounds, Ross encourages attendees to bike, walk, or take public transportation to North 40 Fields.
“A lot of us in town now ride or have e-bikes,” she said. “It’s also definitely a good time to hop on a bus. The other option is to park at China Bridge, because early in the morning it’s easy to park at China Bridge and take the bus from the center of transit there.”
In addition to the launches, the festival will feature a candlestick event with baskets and burners on Saturday at 8 p.m. on Main Street.
Since Main Street will be closed between 4th and 5th Streets from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., and a planned detour during the closure will direct vehicles to Swede Alley to access the parking lot, Ross said.
“The Main Street Candlestick is one of those events that we always look forward to seeing,” she said.
A live DJ will spin some tunes to set the mood, and the pilots will flash their burners to the beat, Ross said.
“It feels like a choreographed experience, because they’re all playing with the DJ and with each other,” Ross said of the pilots. “If you see it from a distance, it looks like we lit oversized candles in the street. If you see them up close you can really see the power of the burner. It’s like looking under the hood, because you can kind of start to understand how a hot air balloon works and how it takes off.
One of the festival’s intentions is to create an event that provides residents and visitors with a special gathering place, Ross said.
“It’s early, which allows them to get through their day and experience Park City,” she said.
This year’s event marks the eighth year that Autumn Aloft has returned to Park City since the 1990s, Ross said.
“It was an honor, first and foremost, to bring this event back,” she said. “I think so many people in our community really think it’s important, and it’s something they really appreciate.”
Ross also has a personal reason why she loves bringing the festival to Park City.
“When we rebooted Autumn Aloft, I didn’t have kids yet,” she said. “Now I have two kids and my eldest son will be six this month, so it’s fun to be able to watch Autumn Aloft from her perspective.