Park City Autumn Aloft balloon festival launches

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Park City’s hot air balloon festival “prepares for takeoff,” said event director Meisha Lawson, with activities scheduled for Friday, Sept. 18 to Sunday, Sept. 20 throughout Park City.

Twenty balloons launched Friday morning on the Park City Meadows Country Club golf course. Balloon pilot Mark Protho became interested in hot air ballooning because of the ideal photography shots, and he said he will continue the Autumn Aloft festival as long as they invite him back.

“Autumn Aloft is a delight for spectators of all ages,” event organizer Monty Coates explained. “We are excited to offer additional opportunities for attendees to interact with hot air balloons.”

According to a press release, event organizers added a balloon glow to the event schedule. The Newpark Glow Kickoff event will feature a single balloon glowing at the Newpark Town Center, Friday, Sept. 18 beginning at 8:00 p.m. Up to 24 balloons will be showcased at the weekend event.

When asked how long he’s been flying for, Protho replied, “You’re supposed to ask that before you get in the basket.” Protho has been flying balloons for 20 years.

BYU student Andy Nielsen is studying mechanical engineering and said he always went to hot air balloon festivals and enjoys asking questions about the physics of hot air balloons and parachute valves.

“My dad flew hot air balloons when he was my age and he would take us to the the festival in Provo every year on the fourth of July,” Nielsen said.

A hot air balloon, piloted by Mark Protho, at Park City’s Autumn Aloft festival. The festival invites everyone to watch the morning launches and get oustide Provo to enjoy weekend activities. (Jenna Koford)

The press release explained the history of the festival. More than 30 years ago, Park City resident Gene Moser and hot air balloon pilots wanted to create “the classiest Hot Air Balloon festival in the world.” They wanted to portray the “free-spirited, anything-goes exuberance of Park City; Autumn Aloft was the brainchild of these passionate balloonists.”

Earlier this year, Moser died while vacationing in New Mexico. He served one term as chairman of the Summit County Commission. Lawson said the Park City area balloon community was saddened at his loss. Lawson said “Gene was the driving force behind the creation and implementation of Autumn Aloft Ballon Festival in the 1980s.”

Lawson said the Autumn Aloft organizing committee would like dedicate the Balloon Launch on Saturday morning Sept. 19 to Gene’s Memory.

“Much has changed in the last 30 years,” the press release stated. “Park City is now a flourishing mountain destination attracting visitors almost year-round, and enthusiastically plays hosts to hundreds of world-class events each year.”

Below is a preview of the schedule of events.

Friday, September 18

Newpark Glow Kickoff Event: a single balloon will glow at the Newpark Town Center (1456 Newpark Blvd, Park City UT 84098) at approximately 8:00 p.m.

Saturday, September 19

Main Launch: The field (2530 Kearns BLVD Park City) opens around 7:45 a.m. The launch begins around 8:00 a.m.

Candlestick on Main Street: This event begins around 8:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m, (on Main Street between 4th and 5th Streets).

Sunday, September 20

Field access (2530 Kearns BLVD Park City, Utah) begins at 7:45 a.m. with the launching beginning around 8:00 a.m.

Nielsen said he attended Sandy’s hot air balloon festival last month and arrived early to help pilots. “After the balloon was inflated, the pilot’s wife said that they needed another person to fly in the basket with the pilot and the other passenger. I quickly volunteered and was able to fly for about a half hour.”

Senior Brian Fagan is a public relations major from Mission Viejo, California. Fagan has been able to explore Utah outside Provo. He said he has mountain biked, rock climbed, cliff jumped, snowboarded and floated rivers, but he has never been to a balloon festival.

“I think being able to see Utah from above would be unbelievable,” Fagan said. He said when he’s gotten up early to go hiking, he’s realized the beauty of nature. “The temples of old were said to be on mountain tops, and I think you realize why when you’re up there early in the morning.”

Students seeking this early-morning experience can visit the Park City balloon festival and watch the launches.

“I think it’s amazing how many fun activities Provo, Utah Valley, and the state of Utah has to offer,” Fagan said. “Being from another state where our primary outdoor activity was the beach, it took me a while to really appreciate all the cool things there is to do in Utah. School life can be stressful, but I’ve learned that nothing is more relaxing than getting outside.”

Nielsen said students in Provo should attend more of these events because “there is so much more to life than books and dance parties. Getting up an appreciating nature and the art, yes … the art, of hot air ballooning is such a great opportunity that I believe heals the soul. Plus seeing colorful hot air balloons scattered across the clear morning sky is, in my opinion, one of the best views to be seen here in Utah.”

More details on Autumn Aloft can be found at

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