Don’t wait to get your lodging and event tickets

By Logan Molen

Publisher, Steamboat Pilot & Today

As Steamboat Springs and Routt County ease out of the pandemic, I’m thrilled to see a full slate of community events on the calendar in the coming months.

One of those is the Steamboat Pilot & Today Hot Air Balloon Rodeo, scheduled for July 10 and 11. This will be the 40th anniversary of this iconic Steamboat event, presented again this year with the support of Vectra Bank Colorado, and we’re looking forward to reopening our launch site to the public.

You may recall that last year, the Balloon Rodeo was held in late August — but with no general-public access in order to maximize safety amid the pandemic. We learned a lot of lessons last year in putting on a radically different event, one that was socially distanced and livestreamed to people watching safely around the world.

To that end, we will carry over some of those ideas, including the video livestreaming and a new ticketing process designed to ensure attendees can safely watch the event up close. The launches will again occur at Bald Eagle Lake, where attendees can watch 30 balloons inflate then float over — and sometimes dip into — the lake’s waters before soaring higher above Steamboat. It’s a scene that makes for memorable photos, particularly of the balloons mirrored in the lake water, and regularly triggers one or more marriage proposals.

The Steamboat Springs Ski Town Lions Club will again be serving delicious breakfast burritos and coffee at each morning launch, with proceeds benefiting important local causes. And Steamboat’s Solar Flare Glasswork & Design will return to sell event-specific, collectible hand-blown glass balloons.

Also this year, we will be charging a ticket fee to ride shuttle buses from the Meadows parking lot on Pine Grove Road to the launch site at Bald Eagle Lake. Because there is no public parking at Bald Eagle Lake, all attendees will either need to ride a shuttle bus or their bicycle to the launch site. As in past years, we will have law enforcement at the gate to restrict access to only shuttle buses or bicyclists who have purchased a ticket. We do not want to encourage people walking along U.S. Highway 40, particularly in the dark, so we will not allow any pedestrian access to the launch site.

Tickets — which include parking at Meadows Lot, a round-trip shuttle bus ride and entry to the launch site — are $10 for adults, $5 for children 11 to 17 and free for children 10 and younger. We’re charging this fee to offset the high costs of putting on this event and to help us ensure a safe event as we ease out of the pandemic. Tickets are available at HotAirBalloonRodeo.com, where you can also find vendor applications, viewing maps, photos, videos and volunteer opportunities.

For those people who do not want to pay for a shuttle and event ticket, we encourage you to watch the weekend launches from a variety of public vantage spots in the area or watch our livestreams, which were so popular at last year’s Balloon Rodeo that they drew more than 100,000 views around the world.

One thing we won’t be doing this year is a Saturday night balloon glow. Logistical challenges and uncertainty related to the pandemic kept us and the city of Steamboat Springs from finding a suitable venue for that event this year, but we hope to restore it to the schedule in future years.

And while we are moving full speed ahead with our event planning, we are paying close attention to local fire restrictions. Steamboat and Routt County implemented Stage 1 restrictions earlier this month, and we are in close communication with local public safety and fire officials to ensure our event complies with any tightening of restrictions that may come between now and July 10.

Balloon Rodeo activities were approved last August in Stage 2 conditions after local officials conducted a thorough onsite review to ensure our pilots, balloon equipment and safety protocols were top notch. In addition to our balloonmeister Doug Lenberg — the flight director who has decades of ballooning experience — our Balloon Rodeo has dedicated weather and safety officers whose responsibilities are specifically defined to ensure the event can only proceed if conditions are safe. All three have flown in Steamboat for years and are well versed in the area’s geography and weather patterns, so we feel confident that pilots, passengers, attendees and the community are in good hands as the event celebrates 40 years of bringing bright colors to the skies over Steamboat Springs.

A couple other Balloon Rodeo-related things:

• Vectra Bank is again hosting a Balloon Rodeo coloring contest. Winners will earn a Steamboat swag bag and $500 each to donate to a local nonprofit of their choice. Details are at HotAirBalloonRodeo.com/coloring-contest.

• We know attendees like Balloon Rodeo merchandise, and we’ll have 2021 items available in time to sell online and at the Main Street Steamboat Farmers Market on July 3 and 10. We hope to see you at our booth.