The 34th annual Hot Air Balloon Rodeo and Balloon Glow is back this weekend |

The 34th annual Hot Air Balloon Rodeo and Balloon Glow is back this weekend

A handful of hot air balloons light up at the base of Steamboat Ski Area on Saturday evening at the annual Balloon Glow event.

— Following the wind wherever it may take them, pilots from all over the country will be in Steamboat Springs this weekend for the 34th annual Hot Air Balloon Rodeo.

Bright and early Saturday and Sunday morning, crowds will gather at the balloon launch field at Bald Eagle Lake to watch the spectacle of 30 balloons lifting off to fill the Yampa Valley sky with vibrants hues.

Kicking off the morning with the balloon inflation at 6:30 a.m., each pilot will prepare for a 7 a.m. takeoff both days.

True to its title — Balloon Rodeo — the anticipated "Splash 'n Dash" competition — in which pilots maneuver their balloons near the lake to dip their basket in the water — will have a new twist this year. Three small helium balloons with a prize attached to each will be placed strategically on the lake, and if the pilots have the skill and finesse to reach out and grab those balloons, they will win one of the three prizes.

Known for his "Cloudhopper" one-person hot air balloon, Jeff Buesing will be the pilot without a basket attached to his balloon. Sitting on a seat hundreds of feet in the air, Buesing usually is known to dip a toe in the water for the annual Splash 'n Dash event. The comparison to a full sized balloon, he said, is like comparing a mini van to a sports car.

"What I like about the Cloudhopper is that it's just you, and you sort of feel closer or more connected to the place you are flying," he said. "It's a little easier to maneuver, too, and when you get really close to the water to get your feet wet is sort of like standing on water."

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Another competition that will test pilots’ expertise is the beanbag toss, in which pilots must throw beanbags at a target in the middle of the field. Whoever gets closest, wins a prize.

"It's a little more competitive this year based on the pilots we have coming," said Debby Standefer, the balloonmeister, or director for the Hot Air Balloon Rodeo. "These competitions may (look) so easy, but it's not so easy because of the varying wind patterns, which have a tendency to change and go in different directions. It makes it hard for the pilots to get low enough to direct their balloons."

Many of the pilots are traveling a long way just to fly in the Yampa Valley, Standefer said. At the event, there will be a wide assortment of balloons, including the football-shaped racer balloon or the hand-painted "Western Spirit" balloon, owned by Jon Seay, who has flown all across the world and owns two of only 12 hand-painted balloons in the world.

The evening Balloon Glow will also be return this year beginning at 8:15 p.m. Saturday at the base of the Steamboat Ski Area. Near Burgess Creek, spectators can watch as nine balloons are tethered to the ground and begin to inflate and glow, resembling enormous, colorful candles.

"The neat thing about balloons is that they have a magical influence on everybody, no matter what age," Standefer said. "Seeing those here and flying around in this valley is probably one of the most beautiful places for this event."

To reach Audrey Dwyer, call 970-871-4229, email or follow her on Twitter @Audrey_Dwyer1

If You Go…

What: The 34th annual Hot Air Balloon Rodeo

When: 6:15 a.m. Saturday and Sunday

Where: Bald Eagle Lake, 35565 S. U.S. Highway 40

Parking: There is no public parking at the event. Free transportation is provided from the Meadows Parking lot on Pine Grove Road. Transportation begins at 6 a.m. Saturday and Sunday from the Meadows parking lot. There will be a suggested donation of $5 per car.

If You Go…

What: Balloon Glow

When: 8:15 p.m. Saturday, July 11

Where: Gondola Base Area