Steamboat's Hot Air Balloon Rodeo a go for launch

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Update: The Hot Air Balloon Rodeo has been cancelled due to fire concerns. Read that story here.

Steamboat’s annual Hot Air Balloon Rodeo, which helped to bring 10,000 visitors to town in 2011, has been deemed safe from the standpoint of fire danger and will go on as planned this weekend.

“I never really had any concern about it,” Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue Chief Mel Stewart said Monday. “I said right off the bat I don’t anticipate any problems from the balloon event. The Stage 2 fire restrictions are very clear that they allow propane-fueled devices. I don’t know of any time the hot air balloons set the grass on fire.”

Stewart said fire department personnel are always on hand before the balloon launch while balloon pilots fill the propane tanks they carry in their baskets.

“We’ll schedule them a little longer this year for a little extra safety net,” Stewart said. “We’ll stay around when they are launching.”

Steamboat previously canceled its July 4 fireworks show because of fire danger.

The fire chief added that he’s not concerned that a balloon basket that tipped on its side during landing could set off a grass fire because the pilots typically turn the burner off a moment before touching down. Unless they are swapping out passengers on the ground, they shut down the propane at that point, Stewart said.

Stewart added that balloon rodeo organizers sought to confirm the event was appropriate under the fire restrictions well ahead of time to avoid a last-minute cancellation.

“We had a very in-depth analysis and internal discussion about the balloon rodeo and the potential risk of propane burners involving city fire and police and the city manager’s office, as well as the balloon pilots and people from the FAA (which licenses commercial balloon pilots),” Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association CEO Tom Kern said.

He said event organizers intend to have a pair of 600-gallon water tankers at the launch field at Bald Eagle Lake just south of city limits as an extra precaution.

The balloon rodeo has been an anchor, along with Art in the Park, for more than 40 years during one of the busiest tourism weekend’s in Steamboat’s summer season.

Kern said summer visitors here spend, on average, $74 per person per day, meaning that if the number of people in town overnight Saturday reaches 10,000 again this year, the economic impact, even if they all stayed just one night, could exceed $740,000.

Stewart said after a casual patrol of Steamboat neighborhoods the evening of June 30, he was impressed with how faithfully local residents are following fire and fireworks bans.

“We had extra patrols (including fire prevention personnel) out Saturday night and haven’t heard any fireworks going off, which is remarkable,” Stewart said.

He said he wouldn’t be surprised if residents contact law enforcement on the night of July 4 if they see neighbors setting off fireworks.

Fire prevention personnel who encounter people using fireworks will assess whether those involved are receptive to an educational message and are willing to give up the remainder of their fireworks, Stewart said. If so, they might get off with a warning. If not, law enforcement officials will be summoned, he said.

Open for business

Kern said the tragic wildfires that have taken lives and property on the Front Range also have presented challenges that must be overcome to entice summer visitors to mountain resorts like Steamboat Springs.

“Our hearts go out to the victims,” Kern said.

His staff is using both social media and traditional advertising outlets to counteract the national perception that all of Colorado is threatened by fire.

In Lawrence, Kan., where the heat index is expected to be above 100 degrees July 4, Kern is working with the Lawrence Journal-World newspaper to promote Steamboat with a vacation give-away.

Kern was the chamber executive in Lawrence before coming to Steamboat and is testing a method of identifying prospects in medium-sized cities within 12 hours driving time of the Yampa Valley. The newspaper promotion attracted 2,000 entrants, Kern said, and after the winner is announced this week, the other 1,999 will receive offers of discounted vacations here.

The Steamboat Pilot & Today and the Lawrence Journal-World are both owned by The World Co.

Kern said he’d be very happy to get a 3 to 4 percent conversion rate out of that database of people who were at least enticed by the thought of a Steamboat vacation. That could yield 80 families who might come to the valley to escape the heat and humidity of the Midwest and, of course, to spend $74 per person, per day.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205

or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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