10 things to know as the 36th annual Steamboat Springs Balloon Rodeo launches this weekend
If you go...What: Hot Air Balloon Rodeo When: 6:30 to 9:30 a.m. Saturday, July 9 and Sunday, July 10 Where: 35565 South Highway 40, Bald Eagle Lake, approximately 9/10 of a mile south of Walton Creek Road on U.S. Highway 40. Transportation: Walking or biking to the site is encouraged, or spectators can park at the Meadows Parking Lot on Pine Grove Road and take the shuttle. $5 suggested parking fee. No public parking is available at the lake.
To be a balloonist, “we tend to say that we stand on the shoulders of giants,” said longtime hot air balloon pilot Pat Carter.
He remembers when he was 10 years old watching hot air balloons drift skyward.
“In the ’70s, those pilots didn’t have the internet, aircraft radios, smartphones or ways to see weather fronts moving in in real time. Everything was done or taught by trial and error,” said Carter, who is known for flying the iconic Colorado flag balloon.
He credits his interest in ballooning to his father, who was a hot air balloon pioneer in Colorado. For more than 40 years, Cartner has continued to keep his father’s legacy alive.
Traveling wherever the winds may take them, Carter’s Colorado High balloon will land in Steamboat Springs this weekend along with 24 others for the 36th annual Hot Air Balloon Rodeo and Balloon Glow.
At 6 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, pilots will start inflating balloons from the Bald Eagle Lake field with the Balloon Rodeo slated to commence at 6:30 a.m.
There is no public parking at the event, so free transportation is provided by Steamboat Springs Transit from the Meadows parking lot on Pine Grove Road. Transportation from the lots begins at 6 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Dogs are not allowed at the event.
Live video from Saturday morning.
The evening Balloon Glow will also return this year at 8:15 p.m. Saturday at the base of Steamboat Ski Area. Spectators can watch the vibrant balloons, which are tethered to the ground along Burgess Creek, 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,” said Debby Standefer, the balloonmeister, or director, for the Hot Air Balloon Rodeo. “Seeing those here and flying around in this valley is probably one of the most beautiful places for this event.”
10 things to know before you go:
Pilots read the wind
Carter said that often times pilots will spit outside the balloon to see which direction the wind is going.
“The winds tend to be very varied, light and wispy, here in the mountains,” he said. “As a pilot, you will see us constantly watching the other balloons or looking at flags down around town to see which direction the wind is blowing. We do this because we really don’t have control other than going up and down, but we are able to use our intuition and experience of flying to know what the winds tend to do.”
Ballooning is so dependent upon gentle winds, no approaching cold fronts or rain. Great weather for flying is expected this weekend.
On being a pilot
“We get up early,” Standefer said. “Most of us will prepare our equipment, refuel the balloon and put gas in the inflator fan and the chase vehicle after we fly.”
They will arrive at the launch field shortly after 5 a.m., find their launch location, check the weather and then the first wave will lay out equipment for take-off prior to the pilot briefing.
Balloonists are FAA-rated pilots, Standefer said, and are subject to FAA regulations.
New balloons this year
“POW-MIA” balloon – Pilot Luke Cesnick from Minnesota with Freedom Flight
“Just Ducky” balloon – Pilot Greg Lindsey from Arizona
Legendary “Western Spirit” balloon
Pilot Jon Seay has flown all across the world and owns two of only 12 hand-painted balloons in the world.
Crowd favorite: Smokey the Bear
Smokey, sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service here, will take off from an adjacent field because the balloon is so huge. Standefer said it takes a big crew, around 12 people, to help the pilot inflate Smokey and pack up when he is done.
The first balloons to take off
At 6:30 a.m., Pat Carter with Rocky Mountain Colorado High — the Colorado balloon — and Tim Taylor from Utah with his American Flag balloon — “Dee III” — will inflate side by side and stand on the field as retired balloon pilot and veteran Frank Kafka sings the National Anthem.
Splash N Dash
With Splash N Dash, the pilots will aim to just have the bottoms of their baskets gently touch the water except for the “Cloudhopper” balloon, which doesn’t have a basket. Pilot Jeff Buesing of Colorado Springs sits on a seat and touches his toe to the water.
Once the balloons cross the lake, Standefer said they will attempt to throw special bean bags at a target on the other side. The closest to the X in the middle will be the winner, and if spectators are on the other side of the lake, they will need to be 100 feet awawy from this target area to not get “beaned.”
Standefer said to come early and get a spot but to stay on the building side of the creek. Once the balloons are inflated and stable, attendees will have a chance to visit with the pilots and see inside the balloons.
“One balloon basket courtesy of Colorado Springs pilot Skip Howes will let the kids come and have a chance to get inside and burn the burner,” she said. “Last year he put almost 200 in.”
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