Autumn Aloft Balloon Festival drifts into town for a second year |

Autumn Aloft Balloon Festival drifts into town for a second year

Scott Iwasaki

The Autumn Aloft Balloon Festival returned to Park City last year after a 20-year absence.

Because of the community’s positive response, the festival will return this year from Sept. 18 through Sept. 20, said Mike Bauwens, the festival’s balloonmeister, which is essentially the festival’s manager.

"It had been a long time since we flew an organized event in Park City and it was great to come back," Bauwens said about last year. "We did have some weather issues on Sunday, but Friday and Saturday were great, because we didn’t have much wind. So all the balloons pretty much stayed around the Basin and did what they were supposed to do and we didn’t have any major incidents."

This year’s festival will feature, first and foremost, more balloons, Bauwens said.

"We had 15 or 16 last year and this year we are planning on 24," he said. "We also have permission to make landings in different parts of town."

Those places include Park Meadows and Park City Municipal golf courses and the Park City School District’s fields.

"Park Meadows Golf Course has been generous to allows us potential landing areas on their driving range on Saturday and Sunday," Bauwens said. "Park City Municipal Golf Course has offered its driving range if we need to land there.

"That’s nice because there will be a 50 percent chance for the balloons to fly out of the area, depending on the winds, so we’re covered and excited," he said.

Another change this year will be a later launch time, 8 a.m.

"The reason balloons launch early in the morning is because, first off, it’s the safest time to do it because the conditions are relatively calm," Bauwens said. "Since the festival comes at a time of the year when the seasons start to change, the cooler temperatures permit us to launch at a later hour."

No pets, smoking or drones are allowed at the launches, Bauwens said.

Organizers also ask festival goers to not park in the surrounding neighborhoods as a courtesy to residents.

Instead they encourage parking at Park City High School and China Bridge Parking in Old Town near the Park City Transit Center. The first busses leaving the Transit Center at 7:19 a.m. so people can arrive at the festival by 7:30 a.m. People who live near the North 40 Fields are encouraged to bike or walk.

In addition to the Saturday and Sunday launches, the Autumn Aloft Balloon Festival will feature other activities — a Friday-night glow at the Newpark Town Center from 8 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. and a Saturday evening candlestick on Main Street from 8 p.m. until 9 p.m.

"A glow happens when you inflate a balloon with the hot-air flame in the darkness of night, which lights up the balloon with a bright light," Bauwens said. "Last year, we planned a glow at City Hall, but it was all dependent on the wind flow in Old Town during the evening hours.

"Since the cold air from the mountain tops always flows down to the warmer air in the valley during the night, we couldn’t do the glow," he said. "So we decided this year to do a glow in Newpark and a candlestick on Main Street instead."

A candlestick is a substitute for a glow when it’s too windy for a glow, Bauwens explained.

"The candlestick still puts out a bright light, but we just set up baskets and light up the burners, without a [balloon]," he said. "It’s still a great thing to see."

As with most balloon festivals around the world, the Autumn Aloft offers the public a chance to sponsor a balloon or balloonist.

"Sponsorships come from different sources," Bauwens said. "There are some events that are sponsored by a multitude of individual people. In Park City, the sponsors are a combination of corporate and individuals, because they enjoy the festivities."

Sponsorships help balloon pilots with their lodging and propane purchases.

"The pilots also get to know the people in town through sponsorships," Bauwens said. "In return, these people get passenger rides."

Bauwens, who has been in the ballooning business for 40 years and trains pilots through his company, Balloon the Rockies, said he loves being balloonmeister, because he’s in the midst of the pilots and the public.

"I love the children’s reactions when they see a balloon up close for the first time," he said. "I love the excitement balloons create when they fly through town and land.

"You also meet people whom you may never have the opportunity to meet, especially when you land in their backyards," he said laughing. "There’s also an energy on the field when the balloons start inflating. Even after 40 years, that still gets me."

The Autumn Aloft Balloon Festival will be held Friday, Sept. 18, through Sunday, Sept. 20. The weekend event will kick off on Friday with a Newpark Glow at the Newpark Town Center at Kimball Junction from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday’s and Sunday’s main launch will be at the North 40 Fields, 2530 Kearns Blvd., at approximately 8 a.m. On Saturday evening from 8 p.m. until 8:30 p.m., the festival will also feature a candlestick event on Main Street, between 4th and 5th Street. All events are free and open to the public. Sponsorships are available. For more information, visit

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