2007 Balloon Rodeo
July 7 Steamboat Balloon Rodeo from the sky.
Steamboat Springs Shuttling between 2,000 and 3,000 people to the 27th annual Hot Air Balloon Rodeo's new location at Bald Eagle Lake turned out to be a bit more difficult than anticipated, event organizers acknowledged Saturday.
"We definitely experienced some delays (Saturday) morning with getting some of the shuttles here, which put us a little bit behind schedule," said Matt Windt, special events director for the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association. "We are going to try to work on that for (today's) event."
The traffic congestion and crowded launch field was the result of moving the annual event from its former home at the Meadows parking lot to Bald Eagle Lake, west of Steamboat Springs on U.S. Highway 40. The event was moved this year because of construction at the Wildhorse Meadows development.
"Honestly, we didn't know what to expect," Windt said. "We planned for the worse, but everything actually turned out awesome. It has exceeded our expectations."
Chad Lenberg, a hot air balloon pilot from Aztec, N.M., said his crew spent the morning maneuvering around other balloon teams because balloonists did not have the same amount of space to inflate and launch their balloons this year.
"This is a lot different than in years past," he said. "It's been a little sneaky."
An advantage of hosting the event at Bald Eagle Lake was giving spectators an intimate look at how the balloons are inflated and launched.
"It brings such excitement to people's lives," said Terry Burgess, whose husband, Conrad, piloted "Air Bear" for sponsor Bank of the West. "It's great for people to get on the field to see the burners and talk to the pilots and the crew. It's something you aren't always exposed to."
Saturday's flight was the Burgess' first trip to Steamboat Springs.
"My wife dragged me kicking and screaming to a balloon rally in New Mexico about 13 years ago," he said. "After that, that was it. We were all hooked."
Bank of the West branch manager Hal Franke, who was a passenger in Air Bear, had a special treat for spectators when the balloon launched.
Franke threw a fistful of $1 bills over the edge of the basket as soon as it left the ground.
"Since all these kids got up extra early (Saturday) morning, I thought I'd try to make it worth it their time," he said with a grin. "Nobody has ever done that before, but people liked the idea so I went for it. I was so excited to see the kids' faces."
Pueblo resident Andrew McInnis, 15, agreed.
"My favorite part of any balloon event is watching all the people and the amazement on their faces," he said. "Watching the first-time riders after they come back down is fun, too."
McInnis travels with his grandparents as members of their balloon crew. Setting up this year in between "kissing balloons" was a struggle, he said.
"It was a little challenging because the field was smaller, and once you got your spot it was just a free for all," he said.
Windt said the Chamber is eager to hang on to one of its signature and most popular events.
"People really seemed to like the great views they got here this year, so we'll see what happens," he said. "There was not a better place to be as the sky filled with color."
Color also was bountiful about 10 miles west of the Balloon Rodeo at the 33rd annual Art in the Park, which began in West Lincoln Park in downtown Steamboat shortly after the rodeo ended.
Marion Kahn, executive director of the Steamboat Springs Arts Council, said she expected between 8,000 and 10,000 people to visit the juried art festival Saturday and today.
"It's very high quality and handmade art from wooden toys to fine art," she said, visiting many of the 145 vendors selected to participate in the art festival. "We also have live entertainment and delicious food vendors. It's everything you would hope to find in a fair."
Kahn said some of her favorite art included gemstone sculptures, "found art" sculptures and wooden carvings laced with turquoise.
"It's amazing the immense creativity that is on display here," she said. "There really is something here for everyone no matter the taste or price range."
The Balloon Rodeo and Art in the Park continue today. The rodeo begins at about 7 a.m. with free shuttles departing the Meadows parking lot every five to 10 minutes starting at 6 a.m. Spectators also can walk or ride their bikes along U.S. 40. Art in the Park is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at West Lincoln Park at 13th Street and Lincoln Avenue. Both events are free.