Steamboat’s balloon rodeo launches today |

Steamboat’s balloon rodeo launches today

Event starts at 6 a.m. Saturday and Sunday at Bald Eagle Lake

If you go

What: 30th annual Hot Air Balloon Rodeo

When: 6 to 9:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday

Where: Bald Eagle Lake

Cost: Free

Getting there: There is no parking at Bald Eagle Lake. Free transportation is provided throughout the event to and from the Meadows Parking Lot at Pine Grove and Mount Werner roads. No dogs and no smoking are allowed at the launch site.

— Stephen Blucher said he no longer takes part in the massive Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, but the veteran pilot still brings his hot air balloon to Steamboat Springs every summer.

"I love little rallies," Blucher said about why he attends Steamboat's annual Hot Air Balloon Rodeo, which launches for the 30th year today and Sunday at Bald Eagle Lake. "The people are fun. … And especially the scenery. It's just fantastic."

About 40 kaleidoscopic balloons are dotting the morning skies above Steamboat this weekend. Several started with flights Friday morning. The launch site at Bald Eagle Lake, south of downtown off U.S. Highway 40, will offer souvenir vendors, food vendors and free admission from 6 to 9:30 a.m. today and Sunday. There's no parking at the launch site, but free shuttles will run to and from the Meadows Parking Lot at Pine Grove and Mount Werner roads throughout the event. The Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association and Bank of the West are presenting this year's balloon rodeo. Local businesses are sponsoring balloons.

Blucher has been attending Steamboat's balloon rodeo for nearly all of its 30-year history. He announced the event until 1994 and has missed only a couple of years, he said, because of duties including a commercial gig flying a Tony the Tiger balloon for the Kellogg Co.

Blucher coasted above U.S. 40 near the base of Mount Werner in calm skies Friday morning. He might soon get his wish for "just a little more wind" — the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service is forecasting chances of rain and thunderstorms after noon today and Sunday, meaning mornings could be breezy.

But that likely wouldn't faze Blucher. After 40 years of piloting, he's got plenty of stories — including the one about flying a balloon from Colorado Springs to Denver "in about an hour."

"Not on purpose," he said, remembering incredibly gusty winds that picked up after he launched that day.

Memories of flights past are a theme for the Hot Air Balloon Rodeo this weekend. In recognition of the event's 30th birthday, event organizers have compiled artwork from the rodeo's past three decades and created a display at the Howelsen Place Discovery Center, at Seventh Street and Lincoln Avenue downtown. The display will be up through Monday. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday and 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday.

For Blucher and other balloon enthusiasts from across the state and region, this weekend's event is a chance to see old friends, enjoy mountain views and test their skills in the skies.

"This is an awesome sport," Blucher said, before firing more hot air into his balloon Friday to increase its elevation above Steamboat. He then reconsidered the noun. "An awesome … whatever."