Meet the team behind Steamboat’s fireworks show |

Meet the team behind Steamboat’s fireworks show

Luke Graham
Scott and Tim Borden
Matt Stensland

— Fireworks shows are just part of being a Borden for Tim and his son Scott, who started putting on the elaborate Fourth of July fireworks shows in 1995 in Steamboat Springs.

“I just remember there always being fireworks around,” Scott said about growing up.

Scott, along with Billy Petersen and Karl Fredell, has taken over the show, but Tim Borden’s passion for fireworks hasn’t dwindled.

If anything, it has grown.

Tim recently got his license to manufacture fireworks, and a 24-inch shell was high on his list.

It’s an arduous process to get licensed, but because fireworks of that size can’t be transported, the Bordens thought, “Why not build them?”

The Bordens shot a 24-inch shell that weighed about 200 pounds at Winter Carnival’s 100th anniversary in February.

Because of dry conditions, the largest shell at this year’s Fourth of July show will be 12 inches, still making it one of the biggest and baddest shows around.

“Seventy-five percent of shows in the United States don’t have anything bigger than 6 inches,” Tim said.

Making the fireworks is a unique process. At the Bordens’ workshop in October 2012, Jim Widmann, a pyrotechnician from Connecticut, showed the Bordens how to make the casing of the shells.

It’s an intricate system. The machine, designed and patented by Widmann, features two beefed up inkjet-like engines on the bottom that rotate an exercise ball. Gum paper is fed around the exercise ball to make the casing. A computer takes exact measurements to make sure the paper is fed in correct layering patterns.

It takes 10,000 feet of gum paper to make the casing.

The machine makes it at least 10 times faster than wrapping it by hand, and Widmann has sold more than 300 of the machines in 27 countries.

Widmann’s love of fireworks runs deep.

“My favorite day of the year was July 5,” he said. “I would go around and find all the duds. I would reconfigure them into something else. I’ve been making fireworks for 50 years.”

But on that day, he was showing the Bordens how to make them. It’s an involved process. After the casing is done and dried, the circular shell is cut in half. It takes about a week to make all the inner stars. When it’s done, it will take 15 pounds of granulated black powder to shoot off. The shell itself will weigh at least 150 pounds, and it will reach an altitude of 2,500 feet.

“It’s uncontrollable happiness,” Tim said as he watched the machine wrap the exercise ball. “This isn’t a rocket science thing. This is an adrenaline thing here. There is some danger. It’s an exciting thing.”

And in the Bordens’ fireworks world, bigger always is better.

Tim has a 36-inch shell ready to celebrate the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club’s 100th anniversary this upcoming winter.

It would be the largest firework ever shot off in the United States.

“Heck, we could be out here in four years,” Tim said, “and I could be telling you how I plan to shoot off a 50-inch firework.”

To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email

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