Balloon Fest prepares for its 38th flight in Provo • Salt Lake Magazine

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

Susan is the current president of Balloon Fest, part of America’s Freedom Festival in Provo, a massive, month-long celebration that ends on July 4. Every year, an estimated crowd of 25,000 people gather early to watch these magical beasts inflate, take off and fill the skies.

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

Susan and her family have been part of this event for 38 years. It all started when her husband, State Senator Curtis Bramble, and Bill Talbot were asked to host the first Balloon Fest. “Okay, I’ll do it,” Susan recalled, saying her husband. “I just want a hot air balloon ride.” Sure enough, he became addicted to these magnificent giants, and he and Talbot became president and vice president of the event. After Talbot passed away in 2017, Susan was asked to take over as president.

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

The Balloon Fest recently added a new Friday night event for less early risers called the Balloon Glow. The balloons aren’t launched during the nighttime event, but you can still experience them up close and watch them glow. From 9:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., just after sunset, 10 balloons are decorated and illuminated with music, a dance party, food trucks and glow-in-the-dark cotton candy.

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

If you are going to

Hot Air Balloon Festival

July 1, 2 and 4
Fox Field: 1100 N. Freedom Blvd., Provo

The glow of the night

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

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