Balloons dot skies, catch eyes

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The Yampa Valley sky was dotted with scenes from a circus, an aquarium and even a big red squirrel during Saturday's annual Hot Air Balloon Rodeo.

The balloon rodeo has been a staple of Steamboat summers for the past 25 years, but this is the last year the rodeo will be held in the Meadows Lot.

"This is exactly what we wanted the rodeo to be this year," said Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association spokeswoman Riley Polumbus.

Polumbus estimated that thousands of people came to watch the early morning rodeo, which she called one of Steamboat's signature events.

But if residents and visitors missed Saturday's event, the balloon rodeo takes place this morning, too. Balloons are inflated at about 6:40 a.m., and they launch at about 7:15 a.m.

"This is the highlight of the summer, and we get so much recognition for this," Polumbus said.

During the rodeo, balloonists compete in two races. In the Don Quixote Race, the pilots try to pop helium-filled weather balloons 100 feet off the ground using a broomstick with a nail attached to it. The hot air balloon passengers are awarded points based on how many weather balloons they pop. In the Rodeo Roping competition, people in the balloons lasso fake steers in the center of the field.

There were 45 balloons that participated in the competitive rodeo this year, and they ranged in color and shape and included a balloon featuring a monumentally sized Marv'n the Martian, a Looney Toons character.

Pilot Robin Guinan of Gill, the owner of the alien balloon, was in the field before 6 a.m. to get ready for the launch at 7:15 a.m.

"I love coming out for the rodeo, but I am a little sorry they're going to be changing fields because I love this field," he said.

Guinan has been hot air ballooning since about 1987 and finally decided to make his own balloon after purchasing one and liking it so much.

"It took me about 350 hours to sew it. I would work on it after work and on the weekends," he said.

"It was fun designing it. Marv'n is really cool, and the kids love him," he said.

Ryan Rowley, a manager at the Village Inn, and Lusandra Zamora, a restaurant employee, were the sponsors who went up in the balloon with Guinan.

"What a wonderful event to sponsor," Rowley said. "I am really excited to see it from a different perspective."

The wind was in the balloons' favor, and the environment was perfect for flying.

"This is the perfect weather weekend for the balloon festival because the winds are mild and stable," said Denver meteorologist Glen Gerberg.

Most of the balloons were about 1,000 to 1,500 feet off the ground and at an elevation of about 8,000 or 9,000 feet.

"The light winds help keep the balloons close to the field, and that helps with the competition," Gerberg said.

The Dick family from Denver planned their vacation around the events of this weekend.

"This is one of our favorite events to watch all year," Steve Dick said.

Steve's daughter, Stephanie, 9, was watching the balloons with her family friend Lauren Platt, 9, of Colorado Springs.

"We like the pink one because it's shiny," Stephanie Dick said.

Lauren's mother, Vicki, was eyeing the balloon with pink flamingoes on it all morning.

"I want that balloon because I have so many flamingoes in my yard," she said.

-- To reach Alexis DeLaCruz, call 871-4234

or e-mail adelacruz@steamboatpilot.com

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