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A flock of hot-air balloon festivals: Napa, Reno, Park City.

A flock of hot-air balloon festivals: Napa, Reno, Park City

As hot-air ballooning has skyrocketed in popularity--the number of registered balloons has doubled in the past five years-- the number of festivals where balloonists test their skills has also increased. With its usually benign weather so critical to balloon flight, late summer is the best time for these festivals.

The sight of dozens of colorful craft-- rising at dawn like giant dandelion puffs, their envelopes slowly filling and breaking free of the earth--can thrill even veteran sports spectators.

Most ballooning events take place early in the day, when winds are most gentle and skies are clear. Fog, heavy clouds, or winds more than 10 mph will postpone a hot-air balloon event, so it's wise to call ahead. If you arrive around dawn, some pilots may let you help spread the envelope so it can fill.

One event you may see is a hare-and-hounds race, in which the "hare' takes off ahead of a chasing pack of "hound' balloons. Another is a key grab, in which pilots try to maneuver their craft close enough to a high pole so they can grab the keys of a new car (winner gets the car).

Here are three of the biggest festivals in August and September. (The granddaddy of all is Albuquerque's International Baloon Fiesta, to be held this year October 6 to 14; see the October 1982 Sunset.)

Napa, California, August 4. Hare-and-hounds races will highlight the Balloon Festival during the Napa Town and Country Fair, to be held August 1 through 5 at the Napa District Fair Grounds. On Saturday, about 15 craft piloted by professional balloonists will begin racing at 7:30 A.M. Admission to the viewing area is free. Some balloons will take passengers along on the race for a fee of $125.

(Balloonists don't have total control over where they land, and sometimes must drop down on private property. In heavily developed agricultural areas such as the Napa Valley, this occasionally causes damage to crops.)

For reservations or to check the weather (wind may postpone or cancel the meet), call (707) 252-7067. For information on balloon companies in the area, call 253-2255. The fairgrounds are on State Highway 121 near Third Street.

Reno, September 7 to 9. A hundred balloons are expected to fill the sky during the Great Reno Balloon Race. Held at Rancho San Rafael county park at the north end of town, the festival will run from 7 A.M. to noon each day, with pilots going for $10,000 in prizes in hare-and-hounds and key-grab events. Admission is free; food booths and exhibits will be open.

From Interstate 80, take the Keystone Avenue exit north; go east on Seventh Street, north on Washington Street. For weather information, call (702) 788-3025.

Park City, Utah, September 14 to 16. The Autumn Aloft Hot Air Balloon Festival will take over the Park City Golf Course from 6 A.M. to noon each day. About 25 balloons are expected to compete in multitarget hare-and-hounds races. The festival will also have food booths and displays of model airplanes, hang gliders, and ultralights. Admission is free.

For weather information, call (801) 645-7000. The event coincides with the city's 100th birthday celebration, including music, art shows, and more; for a list of events, call toll-free (800) 453-1360.

Park City is about a 45-minute drive east of Salt Lake City; take Interstate 80 east, then State 248 south to town and follow signs to the balloon fest.

Photo: A quiet pond in Park City, Utah, reflects slow-rising balloons against Wasatch Range

Photo: Dozens of billowy balloons will dot the sky during the Great Reno Balloon Race, one of largest gatherings of balloons in the West

Photo: Finger on the valve to fire his tanks of propane gas, pilot watches taut ground-handling rope (thin line) as it's released
COPYRIGHT 1984 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Aug 1, 1984
Previous Article:Two colorful bloomers that bask in the heat.
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