Floating festivities

Balloon Rodeo to lift off from traditional site

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— So long as the weather permits, balloon meister Brad Poissant will give the thumbs up to 43 balloon pilots waiting to launch from a field near Steamboat Ski Area on Saturday morning. The early-morning takeoffs will signal the beginning of one of Steamboat's signature summer events.

In its 26th year, the annual Hot Air Balloon Rodeo is scheduled to start with 7 a.m. staggered launchings from the event's traditional home -- the Meadows field adjacent to the Meadows parking lot and the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs.

The balloon rodeo was scheduled to move this year to a rural site west of Lake Catamount because of planned construction on the Meadows site. But the event was allowed to return to the Meadows field for one more year.

"We're excited for this year, but it will probably be our last in that location -- Resort Ventures West (the developer of the proposed Wildhorse Meadows mixed-use project) will have a tent up displaying and outlining their plans of what's going in," said Jody Anagnos, special events director for the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association.

Anagnos urged residents and visitors to take advantage of the free event's convenient location by waking up early to witness the mass launching firsthand.

"It's worth it to see, up close, what it takes to launch the balloons," Anagnos said. "Often the pilots need crews for help, and they're all friendly and eager to answer questions."

For attendees not enticed by the early wake-up to see the launchings and enjoy breakfast from vendors that will offer doughnuts, coffee, breakfast burritos and funnel cakes, the Chamber has some competitions planned as soon as the balloons are airborne.

The popular Rodeo Roping competition features pilots trying to rope a pair of targets on the ground. The costly Don Quixote race, which featured balloon pilots racing to seek and destroy expensive weather balloons, will be replaced with a new Hound and Hare competition in which a marked "Hare" balloon will be chased by other balloons.

A Balloon Shine event is at 9 p.m. Saturday night in the Meadows field, featuring six to eight glowing balloons, depending on weather.

The balloon launchings and competitions will run from 7 to 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Volunteers, still needed for the event, will receive an official Balloon Rodeo T-shirt and should call Evan Soard at 879-0882, ext. 208, to sign up.

The Chamber has combined the Balloon Rodeo with the 32nd annual Art in the Park and encourages tourists -- 9,600 of whom are expected in town this weekend -- to attend Steamboat's largest arts and crafts festival afterward. Art in the Park is in Lincoln Park from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Anyone interested in experiencing the weekend's festivities from a balloon should call Pegasus Balloon Tours at 879-9191. Owner and head pilot Ian Cox said they offer the only commercial balloon flights on site and still have room on the three balloon flights they plan to launch on both days.

-- To reach Dave Shively, call 846-1129

or e-mail dshively@steamboatpilot.com

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