Steamboat fireworks fanatic sets sights on world record
February 3, 2019
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – Locals around Steamboat Springs will proudly tell visitors the city has trained more Olympians than any town in North America. And they may soon be able to boast another record: the largest aerial fireworks shell ever detonated.
For the past six years, Tim Borden has been working to design and build such a firework. He plans to launch his world-record attempt during the Steamboat Springs Winter Sport Club’s Winter Carnival Night Extravaganza on Feb. 9. Adjudicators from the Guinness World Records will be there to determine Borden's success.
The current world record for the largest aerial fireworks shell belongs to U.S.-based “Fireworks by Grucci” and “Al Marjan Island” of the United Arab Emirates. The joint team launched a 2,397-pound firework in the UAE during the country's 2017-18 New Year’s celebrations.
If you go
What: Night Extravaganza
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9
Where: Base of Howelsen Hill
Cost: A $10 Winter Carnival button is required for all events
Borden's firework measures 62 inches in diameter and weighs more than 2,500 pounds. After it launches, the shell will go from 0 mph to 300 mph in the first 26 feet of its one-time journey. It will even contain the ashes of three former Steamboat residents.
Years in the making
Borden loves fireworks.
For the last 20 years, he has been the main organizer of Steamboat's annual Fourth of July fireworks displays. He once bought the town of Lay, Colorado, so he could get a federal license to manufacture fireworks.
Six years ago, he started wondering: "How big can I make a firework?"
He discussed the idea with his longtime friend and fellow fireworks enthusiast Jim Widmann, who lives in Connecticut. Widmann immediately told Borden, "You can't just go and build the biggest firework."
So, they started small. Their first design was a 24-inch shell, and each year, they have launched progressively larger fireworks. In February 2017, Borden launched a 48-inch shell — the biggest shell ever launched in North America.
Widmann helped to design the current record-holding firework launched in the UAE.
"Now, I want to help bring that record to the U.S.," he said.
The 62-inch firework, their largest yet, has been stored inside a warehouse on Borden's ranch outside Steamboat. Borden and Widmann worked with fellow fireworks expert Eric Krug and Ed MacArthur, who owns Native Excavating, to build it.
The firework looks like a wrecking ball and is about as large.
To get its spherical shape, Borden and his team inflated a giant yoga ball that they covered in 8 inches of wrapping paper. That shell acts as a container for the explosives. The strips of brown paper pasted around the sphere make it look like a huge, very precise papier-mâché project.
Borden said it took a month's worth of eight-hour workdays just to wrap the whole thing.
Then, the men cut a hole in the shell large enough for a human to fit through and filled the hollow core with about 2,200 pounds of black-powder explosives.
At the time of the launch, Borden will be at the top of the Poma lift by the launch site on Howelsen Hill. He will be the one to push the launch button.
"That's one of the great privileges of paying for all of this," he said.
Borden would not disclose just how much he has invested in his record-breaking attempt.
"Everyone wants to know, and no one does," he said. "That includes my wife."
All of this assumes the launch will go as planned, but that might not happen.
"We don't know if this will be successful," Borden said, a playful grin across his face.
He has a 95 percent confidence that things will go right, but that small margin for error remains.
Launching to new heights
Most of the fireworks that Borden sets off for events come from China, the country that invented fireworks. They have been expertly designed using centuries of well-established measurements.
When it comes to setting a new world record, one inevitably encounters new, uncertain terrain.
"There's no data to tell us how much explosives to put underneath 2,500 pounds to get it sufficiently up in the air to explode and have everybody see it," he said.
For that reason, the engineering designs for the firework exceed 60 pages. Borden and his team also have worked with the city to establish some safety precautions.
When the firework launches, and hopefully, bursts, the shell will explode and send pieces of thick, paper shrapnel to the ground. City officials mapped out a fallout zone of 4,270 feet on the top of Howelsen. The area was chosen to protect people and buildings from debris. The firework will launch from the middle of that zone.
The public will need to clear Howelsen Hill by 4 p.m. Feb. 9 to ensure the area is secure.
"It's extremely important that people stay out of that fallout area," Borden said.
Putting Steamboat ‘on the map’
Borden's primary motivation for all of this has not been to make himself famous but to attract more visitors to Steamboat.
"It's not about the event itself," he said. "It's about the town."
Borden hopes the publicity from the launch will make Steamboat known worldwide for its fireworks displays. That appears to be happening.
A media team, Passfire, has already interviewed Borden and others involved with the project for an upcoming documentary. Reporters from NBC recently interviewed him for the Jane Pauley talk show.
Steamboat Springs City Manager Gary Suiter was hesitant to call Steamboat “the” fireworks destination, mostly because summer droughts and the resulting fire restrictions have hampered past Fourth of July celebrations. Still, he was optimistic about Borden's world-record attempt.
"Anything that helps put us on the map — it all helps," Suiter said.
Regardless of whether or not Borden and his team set a new world record Feb. 9, Widmann said their project has already succeeded in progressing fireworks past a colorful form of entertainment.
"It's not a firecracker," he said. "It's a piece of art."