The 28th annual Hot Air Balloon Rodeo takes place from 6 to 10 a.m. July 12 and 13.

Photo by John F. Russell

The 28th annual Hot Air Balloon Rodeo takes place from 6 to 10 a.m. July 12 and 13.

Color kaleidoscope during Balloon Rodeo

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Spectators watch as the last few balloons take flight at the 2007 annual Hot Air Balloon Rodeo. Although the Bald Eagle Lake launch had a few problems (mainly traffic in and out), it also provided plenty of breathtaking sights from the ground and the air.

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A shadow of a crewmember falls on the colorful envelope of a balloon as it prepares for launch.

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Southwest Safari, piloted by Kristine Rutherford, hangs in the cool mountain air above the Yampa River during the 2007 Hot Air Balloon Rodeo.

If you go

What: 28th annual Hot Air Balloon Rodeo

When: 6 to 10 a.m. July 12 and 13

Where: Bald Eagle Lake, off U.S. Highway 40 near Walton Creek Road

For more: </strong>info@stea... or (970) 879-0880

It's an early July morning and the mountain air still has a cool bite as pilots and crew begin to unfurl the colorful canvas that will soon decorate the Yampa Valley sky.

Everywhere you look is the sight of busy crews running through their prelaunch routines and balloons being filled with hot air - and a few standing tall in the final minutes before flight.

It's a sight Brad Poissant, balloonmeister for the Steamboat Springs Hot Air Balloon Rodeo, says sticks with people. He should know - he's been on hand for 27 launches of the Yampa Valley's only hot air balloon festival.

"This is just a great event," Poissant says. "Pilots like to come here because Steamboat is a great place to fly; spectators like to come here because it's a beautiful sight."

And he's right.

Each year, the vision of more than 40 hot air balloons riding the swiftly moving air currents high above the rolling waters of the Yampa River draws visitors and locals to our mountain valley.

From the ground below, the launch appears as a magical kaleidoscope of colorful geometric shapes, and from the sky, the pilots and a few lucky passengers can view large expanses of ranchland, wildlife and so many of the other things that make this valley a treasure nestled within the Rocky Mountains.

"You have to be selected to fly here," Poissant said. "These pilots are the best, and they create the show."

Poissant will be center stage July 12 and 13 when the balloons take flight at Bald Eagle Lake for the 28th annual Hot Air Balloon Rodeo.

The almost three decades-old journey has been a memorable one, filled with colorful memories for Poissant.

"This is the pinnacle," Poissant said about being the balloonmeister for the event. "I don't have a balloon, and even if I did, I wouldn't have the time to fly in Steamboat. I just enjoy being a part of this wonderful event."

He hopes the event's survival, which is constantly threatened by new construction and added restriction on where balloons can take off and land, will last for years to come. He says there is nothing that compares to waking early on a July morning and coming out to witness the launch. It's a rare chance to watch the balloons, which on a good day can circle overhead for hours on the winds that swirl around our mountains.

"Everyone needs to come out and watch the setup, see what's going on and after the balloons take off look straight up - it's a wonderful photo opportunity."

Last year, the event was moved from its longtime home near the base of the Steamboat Ski Area to its new home on East U.S. Highway 40 at Bald Eagle Lake.

Kara Givnish, special events and sponsorship director for the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, said there could be a few changes to the format of this year's Hot Air Balloon Rodeo, but in general it will continue following the blueprint that has brought it success for decades.

"There will be a few minor changes, and a few changes that should make things run a bit smoother," Givnish said. "But this is a beautiful sight, and we feel like we've found a home that can showcase this event."

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