Up 1,000 feet or so off the ground and held only by air, you don't hear or feel the breezes. You're a part of them, like a leaf caught by moving water. Where the breezes go, you go. Quietly. Peacefully.

And when the air turns cool and time runs down, you fall back to earth. Hot air rises; cooler air falls.It's simple. But then, ballooning itself is simple.

Pilots use a simple explanation: "You go up, you come down. In between, you simply hang out."

In truth, hot-air ballooning is not that easy - it just looks that way.

The first manned balloon flight is believed to have happened in France in 1783. At the time, however, they didn't credit the hot air for the rising but said "magic smoke" from the fire lifted the balloon. Subsequently, all of the early fires were very smoky.

Surprisingly, it wasn't until the 1970s that interest in ballooning began to rise significantly, says Steve Phillips, information officer for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources by day and, whenever possible, balloon pilot.

Local residents have certainly seen Phillips' balloon along the Wasatch Front - his personal balloon doubles as a hot-air billboard, since it sports the corportate logo of the REMAX real estate firm.

Up until the 1960s, Phillips says, there was no sure-fire method of delivering efficient hot air into the "envelope" - pilot's talk for balloon. Someone introduced propane tanks and burners with self-igniters that could easily be carried in the gondola - the balloon's basket - and could deliver a rush of hot air on command.

"What it did was make it possible for anyone to buy and then fly a balloon, with the proper training and licensing, of course," Phillips said. "It lifted sport balloon on a higher level."

There is no set pattern to a flight. Every one is different. The only certainty is that hot air rises - and when it's trapped in a balloon, the balloon rises, too. Conversely, when the air cools, the balloon drops. There is always the reassuring fact that an inflated balloon, at its very fastest descent, falls at about the same rate as a parachutist.

Learning to fly does take a license and training. Before a license is awarded, a student must fly with an instructor and then solo, a minimum of about 40 hours. The schooling involves everything from setting up the balloon, to understanding winds, to reading the instruments, to the right rate of ascents and descents.

"Over time, you get a feel for everything. You fly by the seat of your pants. You just know by how the balloon is flying what you need to do," says Phillips.

For example, flying on cool days requires less heat than flying on warm days. Lifting temperature inside the envelope on a very cold day can be as low as 125 degrees, while on a warm day it may require the maximum temperature of 250 degrees to get off the ground.

Once adrift, the pilot controls the rise and drop; the winds provide the direction.

"What makes Park City such a nice place to fly is the winds are usually predictable and stable. In places like the Midwest, winds only go in one direction. In Park City you can go to one elevation and go one direction, drop down and go in another direction. Under ideal conditions, you can actually fly in circles," says Phillips.

"I like to say flying is like the currents in a stream. You learn to read the winds just like a fly-fishermen learns to read a stream."

The best ballooning is in the morning, when the winds are more predictable and not mixed up by rising thermals created by afternoon heat.

Once one is aloft, ballooning is nothing like other methods of flight. There is, for example, no sound except for the sudden bursts from the burners or the echoing bark of a dog. There are no wind noises, no creaks and groans.

Phillips says that on one flight, with several balloons fly together, the occasional bursts of fire to one passenger, "sounded very much like waves breaking on the shoreline. Some people say it reminds them of a field of fire-breathing dragons. There are always long periods of silence between burns when it's very peaceful, very tranquil up there."

Ballooning is not, as it may seem, a one-person sport. It requires a full crew to stretch out the envelope, get the burners going and then hold the balloon at that point of weightlessness, when it is ready to fly but won't until the next burst of heat.

Typically, a crew consists of four or more people - "The more the merrier," says Phillips. After the envelope is up, three of the crew fly, while one follows in a chase vehicle. Sometimes the balloon can make it back to the launch point, and sometimes the landing ends up miles away.

The average sport balloon today holds between 75,000 and 90,000 cubic feet of hot air and costs between $15,000 and $20,000 new. Some of the new designer balloons, which take on shapes of everything from castles to dinosaurs to Harley-Davidson motorcycles, are much larger and far more costly.

The late Malcolm Forbes, himself an expert balloonist, owned one of the largest collections of exotic balloons.

There are companies in Park City offering commercial flights. There is also a school for pilots.

Tradition mandates that once first-time balloonists have landed, the pilot deliver the ballooner's prayer:

"May the winds welcome you with softness. May the sun bless you with warm hands. May you fly so high and so well that God joins you in laughter and sets you gently back into the loving arms of Mother Earth."

And then all toast to a good flight and to the new balloonists.