Giddyup to the 37th annual Hot Air Balloon Rodeo | SteamboatToday.com

Giddyup to the 37th annual Hot Air Balloon Rodeo

Hot air balloons will float over the Yampa Valley this weekend during the annual Balloon Rodeo.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Cars have nicknames. Hot air balloons do, too.

"You feel this connection to it," said Cameron Jones, the pilot flying the "Cox 811" hot air balloon. "When you're coming in for a landing, you might have to ditch that planned landing if you don't have the right current."

Sometimes, it needs a little coaxing.

"A lot of times I'll talk to it," Jones said. "Being a pilot is all about making that split-second decision, especially with the landing. It takes a bit of finesse, luck and a little bit of talent."

Look to the sky this weekend as the 37th annual Hot Air Balloon Rodeo and Balloon Glow will land in Steamboat Springs.

At 6 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, pilots will start inflating balloons from the Bald Eagle Lake field with the Balloon Rodeo slated to begin at 6:30 a.m.

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There is no public parking at the event, so free transportation is provided by Steamboat Springs Transit from the Meadows Parking Lot on Pine Grove Road. Transportation from the lots begins at 6 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Dogs are not allowed at the event.

"The spontaneity of flying is always fun because every flight is different," Jones said. "You really have to be a wizard of the wind and go wherever it takes you."

Ask any pilot, and they’ll tell you that ballooning forms a unique, close-knit community of pilots who come together on the foundation of tradition and a passion for seeing the world a bit differently.

"I still remember my first flight," said Dale Ritchie, a pilot for over 40 years, who will fly in Steamboat for the first time with his balloon named “Emily.”

With over 4,540 hours flying balloons, he's flown in Japan, England, Jordan, Mexico, Costa Rica, Australia, all across Canada and the U.S. and even over the deserts of the Wadi Rum in Jordan for the birthday of King Hussein.

He started flying balloons as a sport and was given an opportunity to start flying commercially in 1979. Since then, Dale has trained many balloon pilots in Canada, flown regular-shape and special-shape balloons and is an avid competitor.

"I've done it a thousand times but still get that thrill of taking people up in the balloon for their first time," he said. "When you're up there, it's unlike anything you've ever experience — it’s peaceful. It gives you a different perspective of the world."

Arriving early at the field, pilots will find their launch location, check the weather and then they will be off.

Debby Standefer, balloonmeister or director of the Hot Air Balloon Rodeo said Splash-n-Dash is one event spectators won’t want to miss.

For the event, the pilots will aim to have the bottoms of their baskets gently touch the water.

The evening Balloon Glow will also return this year at 8:15 p.m. Saturday at the base of Steamboat Ski Resort. Spectators can watch the vibrant balloons — tethered to the ground along Burgess Creek —inflate and glow, resembling large colorful candles.

This year, six new pilots will take to the sky for some mountain flying in the Yampa Valley.

Returning crowd favorites include Smokey the Bear, flown by pilot Brad Rice, and the Cloud Hopper balloon, flown by Jeff Buesing, who sits on a seat with his feet dangling down, so he can dip his toes in Bald Eagle Lake for the Splash-n-Dash.

Jeff’s father Russ Beusing will fly their bigger balloon, the "Russ Buss."

Up in the sky, look for Jon Seay's hand-printed "Western Spirit" balloon, as well as the other hand-printed "Big Top" balloon flown by Mark Whiting — two of only 12 hand-printed hot air balloons in the world now.

"Every balloon has its own name and some kind of connection with the pilot," Standefer said. 

Be on the lookout for…

• Come early – pilots will start inflating balloons at 6:30 a.m., and the balloons will only be in the air for around an hour. Balloons will launch in two "waves."

• Leave your pets at home (dogs don't like the burner noise) and remember there is no smoking on event grounds.

• Splash-n-Dash — Be sure not to stand at the edge of the lake where they are taking off so you don't get run over. Stand to the sides of the launch area.

• Bring your camera — Balloons are the most photographed subjects in the world, and the myriad of colors will amaze you.

• Don't miss the Balloon Glow – organizers ask spectators to stay on the resort side of the creek until the balloons are standing up and stable. The announcer will indicate when it's OK to talk to the pilots up close. Look for Skip Howes, who will have his basket again this year, for the kids to get in the basket and light his burners.

To reach Audrey Dwyer, call 970-871-4229, email adwyer@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @Audrey_Dwyer1.