Air and art

A colorful tradition continues in Steamboat

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Colorful hot air balloons and a plethora of art will cover the sky and town July 14 and 15 in celebration of the 21st annual Rainbow Weekend.

This Steamboat Springs tradition brings some of the West's finest artists for Art in the Park, hot air balloonists and the most competitive cowboys in the area.

More than 125 art and craft vendors will surround West Lincoln Park, also known as Elk Park, with food, children's activities and live entertainment for a family event.

Child and adult artists will have the opportunity to reveal their best art media in a showcase of events throughout the weekend.

Steamboat Springs Arts Council expects to see about 10,000 visitors, while sharing the festivities of Rainbow Weekend with the balloon rodeo and the pro rodeo.

The chamber will offer a dinner to the pilots and sponsors Friday night before preparing for the early launch and salute to the national anthem.

Brad Poissant, chair of the Balloon Rodeo Committee, said Rainbow Weekend consists of the balloon rodeo, Art in the Park and the rodeo.

The hot air balloon rodeo begins Saturday morning with a blanket of vibrant balloons covering the Yampa Valley skyline for the annual show.

Thousands of people will line Mount Werner Road and the Tennis Meadows to watch the balloons stand at attention during the national anthem and then lift off to begin the uncompetitive race.

"We never have pilots that are like, 'I really gotta win,'" Poissant said shaking his fists. "It's just a small gathering, but the largest in Steamboat throughout the year."

Onlookers are encouraged and welcome to walk through the maze of 47 balloons in the meadows.

"When you get them all together, it's a mass of color (in the sky). It's a serene and peaceful launch," Poissant said.

Ten helium-filled white weather balloons will float between 75 and 150 feet in the air before they are popped by hot air balloon pilots trying to get the greatest number of white balloons the fastest.

Poissant said he's out at the meadows at 4:30 a.m. the morning of the launch to tie the weather balloons to the ground.

The second phase of the balloon rodeo occurs when pilots descend after the rodeo in order to rope a fake steer sticking out of a mound of hay.

"There are three targets on the field, and (pilots) have a circular rope that they try to throw around the steer. They get points for who's closest."

Poissant said the balloon phase of Rainbow Weekend began 21 years ago with 10 to 15 balloons as a get together for hot air balloon pilots.

Pilots with the brightest balloons will volunteer their time to create the Balloon Shine after sundown Saturday.

"Five years ago we added Balloon Shine. We try to get it all choreographed so the fire goes all at the same time. It's a real crowd-pleaser," Poissant said.

Art in the Park began before the balloon rodeo and Rainbow Weekend 27 years ago in a festival of art, food and entertainment from artists around the western United States.

Nancy Kramer, executive director of Steamboat Springs Arts Council, said Art in the Park started simply with just a handful of local artists.

Six years later, the balloon event originated and the two events seemed to mesh well together.

"The weekend was put together when the community wanted to condense the big events on the same weekend," Kramer said. "(Balloon rodeo and Art in the Park) worked really well together."

Kramer said the Arts Council has developed a growing populous of artists to gather for Art in the Park.

"We've really tried to crank up the quality," Kramer said. "We've got some regulars and it's juried. We try and help local artists."

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