Balloons will soar through Steamboat skies this weekend
The skies of Steamboat Springs will get a little more colorful this weekend, as hot air balloons from around the country take flight for the 40th annual Steamboat Pilot & Today Hot Air Balloon Rodeo. This year, the rodeo will see 30 balloons on display, five of which have female pilots.
Balloonmeister Doug Lenberg said this is unusual but is something that he, as the event organizer, has been working on.
“Typically, balloon pilots are predominately male,” Lenberg said. “I’m proud of the fact that I can invite female pilots to this event and that they accept. They are all highly qualified pilots, many with very interesting backgrounds.”
Peg Billson, who has been a fixed wing pilot for over 40 years and a balloon pilot for the past four years, is one of those women. Last year was her first year at the Balloon Rodeo, and she will return this year, bringing the Smokey Bear balloon with her.
1. Getting around: Downtown Steamboat Springs will be busy this weekend with several events in addition to the Balloon Rodeo, so we suggest riding your bike, taking the free bus, carpooling or walking around town. Bus schedules can be found at SteamboatSprings.net/166/transit, and visitors can also find the location of buses in real time with estimated arrival and departure times at SteamboatSpringsTransit.RouteMatch.com/fixedroute.
2. Parking: There is no public parking at Bald Eagle Lake, the site of the balloon launches Saturday and Sunday morning. Shuttles will be transporting ticket holders — which are now sold out for both days — to Bald Eagle Lake from the Meadows Parking Lot on Pine Grove Road and Bangtail Way, starting at 5:30 a.m. both mornings. Be advised that parking along U.S. 40 is strictly prohibited. People are welcome to ride and park their bicycle at the event but must have already purchased a ticket.
3. Viewing: If you weren’t able to purchase a ticket to be at the launch site, you can still watch the balloons. The early morning launches of more than two dozen hot air balloons at Bald Eagle Lake provide several great viewing options. As the balloons float up into the air, they can be seen from throughout Steamboat. You can find a detailed map of the best locations here. There’s also going to be a live feed from the launch site at SteamboatPilot.com, as well as Facebook Live videos on the Steamboat Pilot & Today Facebook page.
4. Pets: Steamboat loves its dogs but not at the Balloon Rodeo. This ensures safety for all spectators and crew members. Dogs are not allowed at the balloon launch site at Bald Eagle Lake, so please leave your pups at home. Smoking is also prohibited at the launch site.
5. Family fun: The Balloon Rodeo is a great event for the whole family. There will be food and drink vendors at the launch site.
6. Take care and share: Like any outdoor festival, make sure you stay hydrated, be prepared to navigate the crowds and take plenty of pictures and video. Attendees are encouraged to share their photos from the festival on social media using the hashtags #BalloonRodeo and #SteamboatSnaps or simply email to share@SteamboatPilot.com. We’ll be running a photo gallery in print and online with staff and submitted photos from the event, so yours could be included.
7. Learn: The Balloon Rodeo features over 25 balloons, and the event is planned to allow festival-goers to engage and interact with the pilots. This is a great opportunity to learn more about hot air balloons and the skill it takes to fly the beautiful aircraft, especially in the mountains.
“One of the wonderful things about flying in general and ballooning specifically is that it is gender irrelevant,” Billson said. “It doesn’t require any particular strength that tends to be attributed to males or females. To me, it’s an equalizer.”
After the rodeo taking place in a different capacity due to COVID-19 last summer, Billson said she is looking forward to returning and seeing the smiling faces.
“Not having the ability for spectators to come and see us launch and interact was really missed last year,” she said. “That’s something that gives us a lot of joy and energy.”
In addition to Billson’s balloon, spectators can see balloons from Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Wisconsin.
The event will see several changes this year as well, most notably the fact that participants will have to pay for a shuttle ticket to get to Bald Eagle Lake, where the event is held. Attendees can park in the Meadows Parking Lot, beginning at 5:30 a.m. both Saturday and Sunday morning, and then take the shuttle to the launch site. Shuttle tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children 11 to 17. Children younger than 10 are free.
Bicyclists will need a ticket as well, and pedestrian access is not allowed this year; the front gate will be monitored to ensure that everyone has purchased a ticket.
In 2019, the Steamboat Pilot & Today took over as host of the event from the Steamboat Springs Chamber.
“We want to build on what is a really iconic Steamboat event,” said Logan Molen, publisher of the Pilot & Today. “We believe in connecting the community, and events are one way we can do that.”
Molen said that while he feels good about the direction the event is going in for the future, they have had to adjust their business model to allow the event to be run through a private business versus the Chamber running it as a civic event.
Charging for shuttle rides will allow costs to be recovered that were spent on parking, buses and insurance, and will also help manage the number of visitors at Bald Eagle Lake, which has minimal parking and was not designed to be a public place.
“In the long run, we will look for the right kind of location for this event, including the night glow, which we couldn’t do this year; finding long-term solutions that work for the community and work for us are major priorities moving forward,” Molen said.
For now though, the event will continue in a similar capacity as it has in the past: Visitors will get to chat with pilots and crew, learn about the balloons and then watch them soar overhead. Music, food and merchant vendors and fun activities will be on site as well.
Lenberg, who has been flying in Steamboat for a decade and has been the balloonmeister of the event for three years, said his favorite part of the event is the fact that you can fly for a very long time in the Steamboat skies.
“In Steamboat, you don’t take off from point A and go to point B,” he said. “You don’t know where point B is in Steamboat. It’s where the winds take you; I’ve had some wonderful flights for almost two hours here. … It’s just that kind of place to fly.”
Sophie Dingle is a contributing writer for the Steamboat Pilot & Today. She can be reached through the editor.
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