Balloon Rodeo takes to the skies over Steamboat Springs this weekend
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — After months of numerous meetings, phone calls and wrangling dozens of issues, Steamboat Springs’ annual Hot Air Balloon Rodeo will finally be a reality this weekend but with a few changes.
“I think Steamboat needs this,” said Steamboat Pilot & Today Publisher Logan Molen, who took on the unenviable task of convincing all involved that the annual June event could be held safely in late August. “The balloon rodeo is a core part of the community, an iconic event, and with so many events cancelling … we thought we could put on a safe event that would give the community a lift in a tough time.”
One big change means the public will not be able to hang out at Bald Eagle Lake, where the balloons inflate and launch on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Pilots, crews and sponsors will have to go through a health screening as well. However, the public can watch from anywhere else in town that’s open and public.
But balloon meister Doug Lenberg insists the changes shouldn’t affect everybody’s fun. He encouraged families and neighbors to set out a white sheet on their cul-de-sac, balcony or a nearby field, because there’s always a chance one of the balloon pilots will see it and come visit.
“If you put out a white sheet, that’s an indication that a balloon can land,” said Lenberg, who as balloon meister organizes all the balloons and is the event’s troubleshooter.
“I like sharing with people, stopping in someone’s backyard. I’ve picked up the kids and let their parents chase them,” said Lenberg, who piloted balloons in Steamboat Springs for 10 years before coming back last year as meister.
While the pilots may not be able to pick up fans this year, he said there’s still no harm encouraging ballooners to drift by low to shout hello.
Saturday night’s popular Balloon Glow is cancelled this year due to social distancing rules, but Molen says don’t be surprised if individual balloon pilots light up their balloons on their own, wherever they’re parked for the night.
Saturday, Aug. 29 and Sunday, Aug. 30 at Bald Eagle Lake
- 6:30 a.m. Sunrise Patrol – Wave 1 balloon launch
- 7 a.m. Wave 2 balloon launch
- 7:30 a.m. Wave 3 balloon launch
*Weather permitting, balloons will be in the air through mid-morning
And there’s good news from the Balloon Rodeo’s weather officer. Pilot Tim Dee-Taylor, who has been flying his balloon in Steamboat for 12 years, said he expects the smoky skies to dissipate.
“We’ve got a high (pressure system) that’s spinning on top of us that’s starting to push out the (wildfire) smoke,” Dee-Taylor said.
Dee-Taylor is one of only 25 balloon pilots in the world who is certified to fly at night. He flies the balloon that looks like an American flag waving. And this year, depending on weather, he’ll be launching “dawn patrol” flights Saturday and Sunday mornings where the balloon takes off in the dark and stays up until the sun comes up.
“As you watch the sun come over the mountain and the rays climb up the balloon, it’s breathtaking,” Dee-Taylor said. “It’s like a religious experience, like you’re getting closer to God. ”
He said it might be a good chance for early risers to take some incredible video and photos.
Lenberg said spectators should watch for some very special balloons this year, including a rubber duck.
“It’s very possible you’ll see a rubber duck floating down the Yampa River,” Lenberg said.
Both long-time balloon pilots call Steamboat one of the friendliest towns they’ve ever flown in.
“Typically, when we land, people come running out and stand around. That’s why we’re there — to see all those big smiles,” Dee-Taylor said.
This year, due to the pandemic, people will need to watch the balloons from a safe social distance.
This is the second year the Steamboat Pilot & Today is putting on the event. About 25 balloons will take off from Bald Eagle Lake near U.S. Highway 40 and Walton Creek Roads between 6 to 9:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday mornings. Dee-Taylor’s “dawn patrol” balloon is scheduled to take off an hour before sunrise, weather permitting. Sunrise is listed as 6:32 a.m.
Frances Hohl is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.
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