Weekend of artistry and color comes to fruition with Hot Air Balloon Rodeo in Steamboat | SteamboatToday.com

Weekend of artistry and color comes to fruition with Hot Air Balloon Rodeo in Steamboat

— Throughout the course of the 1970s, ornately decorated balloons in the sky were a mystifying spectacle. It was a rarity, yet a sight to be seen back in the day.

The pilot of the iconic Colorado Flag hot air balloon, Pat Carter, grew up with a curiosity for ballooning, thanks to his father who was a pioneer of the hot air balloon culture in Colorado. For more than 30 years, he has continued to keep the legacy alive and well.

More recently, the hot air balloon culture has evolved into a national and international sport with competitions that range in skill and finesse. It has even become a commercial entity, and one that is well known in Steamboat Springs.

As part of the Western heritage and abundance of outdoor adventures, the annual Hot Air Balloon Rodeo will start at around 6:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday at Bald Eagle Lake, with shuttles available starting at 6 a.m. from Meadows Parking Lot.

In correlation with this event, the 40th annual Art in the Park extravaganza also will take place this weekend.

Each year, West Lincoln Park is covered in a sea of white tents to host about 150 artisan vendors from all across the nation.

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The Steamboat Springs Arts Council's biggest fundraiser of the year will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday from and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Adding to the liveliness of the event, about 14 food trucks, kids activities and live entertainment also will be at the park.

Continuing on into the night, the Balloon Glow will take place at 8:30 p.m. Saturday. About 10 balloons will tether to the ground at the base of Steamboat Ski Area where they will inflate and light with amber flames. As dusk turns to nightfall, the balloons with their vivid hues will light up as giant colorful lightbulbs.

There also will be a Candle Stick Glow where just the baskets of the balloons will be exposed and the burner will ignite with flame and look as if it were a candle burning near the creek at the base area.

When the Hot Air Balloon Rodeo started, pilots would fly balloons down Mainstreet landing anywhere they pleased, Carter said.

"Pilots could get away with anything," he said. "Back then, it was a lot more lenient and because balloons were not seen often, people always stopped what they were doing in amazement and welcomed the balloons and pilots with open arms when they landed."

Continuing the tradition, Steamboat's historic event offers a place for reunion among friends and families.

"One of the great things about ballooning is the camaraderie because we are a small, tightly knit group. Everyone enjoys getting together again each year," said Debby Standefer, the balloonmeister or director for the Hot Air Balloon Rodeo.

This year, about 30 balloons will depart into the sky with the expertise of pilots and crews who have traveled from all across the country to soak in the views and enjoy the mountain air.

Pilot of the Western Spirit hot air balloon, Jon Seay, has flown all across the world and owns two of only 12 hand-painted balloons in the world. He notes that Steamboat offers an endearing place of serenity for all to enjoy.

"I really enjoy the quiet of ballooning and sharing it with people and friends," he said on the phone enroute to Steamboat Springs on Wednesday. "It's great to take people up in the balloon that may not have the chance to do so elsewhere."

Attending festivals from all across the world, pilots continually admire the enchanting landscape Steamboat has to offer.

"It definitely ranks up there with the absolute top places that I've flown," Carter said.

For this weekend's Balloon Rodeo, the pilots will take part in a Splash and Dash event on the lake. Pilots will float the balloons near the lake to lightly dip their baskets in the water, some may go further than others. Other tasks involve throwing beanbags at a target in the middle of the field and whoever gets closest, wins a prize.

"My favorite part about being a pilot is watching the enjoyment on people's faces when you take them up in the balloon and being able to share that specialness with other people," Standefer said.

For renowned balloon announcer and pilot, Glen Moyer, his love for flying originated from when he was a little kid reading stories about aviation.

Attending some of the biggest hot air balloon festivals across the world, he continues to share his passion.

"I love the sense of freedom that you get from flying, and I love to share that experience with others," Moyer said. "It's a chance to get away from everything."

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