Balloon Fest Prepares For Its 38th Flight in Provo

For Susan Bramble, Provo’s annual Balloon Fest isn’t just a community tradition. It’s a family affair. “It’s kind of like a family reunion,” she says. “The ballooning community is very small.” The world of hot air balloon pilots is tight-knit—Susan says that there are less than 1,000 pilots nationwide and less than 50 in Utah. Among those 50 are Susan’s husband and four sons, who continue the festival’s 38-year Provo legacy.

Susan is the current chairperson of Balloon Fest, which is part of America’s Freedom Festival at Provo, a massive multi-month celebration that ends on the 4th of July. Every year, an estimated crowd of 25,000 gathers bright and early to watch these magical beasts inflate, take off and fill up the sky.

A hot-air balloon in flight at Balloon Fest
A hot-air balloon in flight at Balloon Fest (Photo by Jason Robison Photography)

Susan and her family have been a part of this event for its entire 38 year history. It started when her husband, State Sen. Curtis Bramble, and Bill Talbot were asked to put on the first Balloon Fest. “Okay, I’ll do it,” Susan recalls her husband saying. “I just want a balloon ride.” Sure enough, he got addicted to these magnificent giants, and he and Talbot became chair and vice-chair of the event. After the passing of Talbot in 2017, Susan was asked to take over as the chairperson.

Of the 30 hot air balloons at this year’s event, the Bramble family owns 5 of them. Ballooning is an expensive sport because the balloon’s fabric lasts only 500-800 hours before it needs to be replaced. “I always tell people, ‘Your first ride is free, and the second costs you $80,000.'” Susan jokes. Each pilot is responsible for their balloon, whether they are asked to fly one from a corporate company or bring their own. Since there are so few balloon pilots, pilots at this event come from all over the country—this year, participants are traveling from Colorado, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, California and Pennsylvania. During the Balloon Fest, the pilots face off in a friendly competition called the Hare and the Hound competition, where they attempt to drop bean bags onto a target. They will also attempt to pop balloons with sharp sticks while jousting from 200-300 feet in the air. 

The Balloon Fest recently added a new Friday night event for the not-so-early risers called the Balloon Glow. The balloons are not launched during the night event, but you can still experience them up close and watch them glow. From 9:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m., just after the sun goes down, 10 balloons are decorated and lit up along with music, a dance party, food trucks and glow-in-the-dark cotton candy. 

For Susan, Balloon Fest is a time to celebrate, for both pilots and spectators. “I hope people catch the magic of balloons as they fill the sky with all this color,” she says. “I think that’s the thing that balloonists love to share—that magic that we find in ballooning that we hope we can pass on to those that come and watch.” 

If You Go

Balloon Fest 

July 1, 2, and 4
6 a.m.-8 a.m.
Fox Field: 1100 N. Freedom Blvd., Provo

Night Glow

July 1
9:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m.
Fox Field: 1100 N. Freedom Blvd., Provo

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