Lessons learned from hosting first balloon event; 2020 dates set

Logan Molen

Publisher, Steamboat Pilot & Today

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — I’ve tackled many daunting projects in my nearly 40 years in local media, but none prepared me for navigating the many challenges of a hot air balloon event. But having survived this first one, I can’t wait to do it again.

I might not have said that a few weeks before, as our staff tackled the many tasks associated with hosting such a large event.

“Relax,” our ebullient balloon meister Doug Lenberg kept telling me in the weeks leading up to the event. “Everything will be fine.”

He was mostly right. We enjoyed larger-than-normal crowds at all three events, and our two-dozen pilots put on memorable shows at Bald Eagle Lake and Howelsen Hill. It felt good to see thousands of attendees smiling, laughing, oohing and aahing, particularly during the spectacular display of flying on Sunday, which many pilots described as “the best in years.”

On Saturday, I got a thrill talking with one of at least two couples who got engaged at Bald Eagle Lake during the morning balloon launches. And I got goosebumps when an associate described her balloon ride as “a spiritual experience.” I couldn’t agree more.

Having said that, we have a long list of things to improve for next year. And, as you might expect, planning for next year’s event began the day after this year’s ended. No rest for the wicked, you might say.

Here are a few of the bigger things we’ll be addressing:

• The 2020 event — scheduled for July 11 and 12 — will be called the Steamboat Pilot & Today Hot Air Balloon Rodeo. Now that we’ve got a year under our belt, we feel good about what we accomplished and will put our brand, marketing muscle and full effort behind this iconic event. We’ll also restore “Rodeo” to the event title. We’ll still pursue a festival atmosphere in planning the event but want to recognize Steamboat’s deep ranching roots and singularity among balloon festivals elsewhere. The Hot Air Balloon Rodeo is a strong brand, and it’s my fault for trying to mess with something that’s worked well for 38 years.

• Crowds were larger than expected, particularly on Saturday morning, which led to long shuttle lines to and from Bald Eagle Lake. We’ll correct that next year.

• We’ll have more food and merchandise vendors at all events. And you clearly liked most of our event merchandise — everything but the hats sold quickly — so we’ll be better prepared next year. If you did miss out, you can still order event merch at hotairballoonrodeo.com/merchandise.

• Six balloons were able to inflate at the Howelsen Hill Night Glow but, outside of several basket “candlesticks” on the rim of the bowl, they did not get to light before a quick windstorm barged in and disrupted the show. Winds have been a gremlin with the night glow in Steamboat, so we’ll continue to try to outsmart Mother Nature next year. But based on our happy vendors, many of you had a good time regardless.

Those are just a few of the five or six dozen other things we want to address as we plan for 2020. Feel free to share your thoughts and advice with me at lmolen@steamboatpilot.com.

Finally, many thanks to the many people and organizations who donated money, land, time or expertise to make the event possible. They include: our sponsors and vendors; lodging, fuel and media partners; volunteers; civic organizations, whose proceeds will be donated back into the community; and everyone who came out to watch the spectacle.