Molen: Balloon Festival unites community in celebration of Steamboat scenery and more

Tim Taylor’s Dee 3 hot air balloon gets warmed up for the main event at the 2018 Hot Air Balloon Rodeo at Bald Eagle Lake.

Logan Molen
Publisher, Steamboat Pilot & Today

Logan Molen

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — What are you doing this weekend? I’ve talked with many locals who are still recovering from a busy July Fourth weekend, but I hope you’ll make room for the 38th annual Steamboat Springs Hot Air Balloon Festival on Saturday, July 13, and Sunday, July 14.

The balloon festival was one of the first Steamboat events I attended after joining Steamboat Pilot & Today last year, and it remains a highlight of an eventful first 12 months here. Fond memories of several dozen balloons filling the early morning skies over Steamboat are among the reasons I’m thrilled Pilot & Today has taken over management of this iconic event.

With a 37-year history in Steamboat, the balloon festival has developed a reputation for excellence with high interest among locals and visitors. We want to build on that legacy and have added a few changes we think will make a great event even better.

Chief among those changes is moving the Saturday night Balloon Glow to Howelsen Hill in downtown Steamboat, where summer wind patterns are more favorable for balloons to inflate at sundown. Weather permitting, balloon meister Doug Lenberg has plans for a beautiful “glow” experience with lighted balloons and “candlesticks” circling the venue emitting explosions of fire.

The Balloon Glow will be part of a larger festival atmosphere at Howelsen and will feature a live concert by Mr. Majestyk’s 8-Track Revival, a terrific Denver band that performs dynamic covers of ‘70s pop and rock classics. Of MM8TR, Yellow Scene magazine said, “Their sound is as arresting as the spectacle they deliver in person. It’s a local superband of funktasm.”

In addition to the balloons and live music, the Glow will include kids’ activities and a dozen food, drink and merchandise vendors. Gates open at 6 p.m. with the show winding down at 10 p.m.

The Night Glow is one of three distinct events that make up the festival, and we’d love for you to make time for the other two: early morning balloon launches from Bald Eagle Lake on Saturday and Sunday. To see the balloons mirrored in the lake waters as they soar over the Yampa River is a special experience. The scene is romantic too: Last year’s launches spawned three marriage proposals.

Two dozen pilots from nine states will be flying in Steamboat this weekend, hauling their balloons from as far away as Florida, Nevada and Minnesota. They will be flying a wide variety of colors and shapes. There are only 12 hand-painted “art balloons” in the world, and two will be here in Steamboat: The Western Spirit balloon flown by Jon Seay and Big Top flown by Mark Whiting.

Smokey Bear is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, and we’re thrilled the U.S. Forest Service and Friends of Smokey Bear Balloon have arranged for the giant Smokey balloon to appear this year. Smokey will be piloted by Sam Parks, whose day job as director of operations at the world-famous Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta makes him a heavy hitter in balloon circles. We’re told “Smokey Bear” may be mingling among attendees at the morning launches, so be sure to say hello and thanks for 75 memorable years.

You’ll want to get to Bald Eagle Lake early — gates open at 6 a.m. — for a number of reasons:

  1. Breakfasts, including mimosas, from the Ski Town USA Morning Rotary on Saturday and the Ski Town Lions Club on Sunday. Both clubs will use their breakfast proceeds for local causes. And Steamboat Coffee Co. will be selling specialty drinks both mornings.
  2. There is no public parking at Bald Eagle Lake so shuttle buses from Meadows Parking Lot can fill up quickly. I’d encourage you to get to Meadows Lot by 5:45 a.m. in order to ensure you’re at Bald Eagle to see the balloons inflate and lift off.
  3. We’ll be continuing a beautiful Steamboat tradition by having the National Anthem performed as the Stars & Stripes and Colorado High balloons lift into the air to represent our nation and state. Donna Scheer, wife of pilot Steve Scheer, has graciously agreed to sing the anthem, and I can assure you the experience tugs at the heart.

Dozens of local residents have asked me why Pilot & Today decided to take over the balloon festival from the Steamboat Springs Chamber. It’s a good question since the newspaper hasn’t been in the balloon business. But Pilot & Today is in the event business, which is an extension of our core mission to connect our communities through trusted news and information, effective marketing solutions and unmatched audience reach. To that end, the Balloon Festival is an ideal opportunity to unite attendees, sponsors and vendors in a celebration of Steamboat’s scenery, history and friendly spirit.

For more information, visit our event website at www.hotairballoonrodeo.com and read expanded coverage in the Pilot & Today throughout the weekend.