The 2013 Steamboat Balloon Festival
right place right time
Dawn and I had planned to visit some friends in Steamboat and it was only a lucky break that it was the same weekend as the Festival. We had a concert the evening before, so I wasn’t able to attend the pilot briefing on Friday night. I spoke with Debby Standefer the Balloon Meister earlier in the week and knew I was welcome but little else.
So, with little information and a gut full of butterfly s I arrived at the field on Saturday morning. I had expected a large park and was hoping for plenty of room to launch but was disappointed to find a small rectangle surrounded by vendor booths. There was no chance that I would be able to launch early and even after the mass ascension it would not be an easy launch. There were too many obstructions and not enough room. Debby suggested that I look around for an alternate site and I found a spot on the other side of the jump pond where a couple of the local balloonists were beginning to set-up.
|Steamboat 2013 LZ
It wasn’t great, there was a narrow runway of hard pack that ended abruptly into a field of tall weeds. There were some trees to avoid and of course the pond that separated us from the rest of the festival. It looked possible but I was going to have to get the inflation right immediately and make the go- no go decision within 30 feet of the start.
I spoke with Ian, the senior balloonist, who explained that the visiting pilots were concerned about a large cell several miles off and the possible winds that it might send our way. The plan was for him and another one of his balloons to launch at this site and act as “Pie Plates” for the others to gauge the air. He wasn’t too encouraging and told me that it might be a very short flight. While we were talking a slight breeze came up from down valley which was in exactly the right direction. I took it to be a good omen and set up.
Ian launched quickly and his second balloon set up and inflated in record time. It was now or never. When I powered up, the wing only need a quick tug on the right side to bring it in-line with the runway. It felt good from the start and once I was rolling I had no doubts. Just before I got to the end of the hard pack I lifted off and started a very slow climb-out. When I got to the trees I did a couple of turns between the largest groves and it was all good. Dawn said that it looked close on take off and because of the trees they were not able to see where I was until I had climbed up and around the trees.
Once up, it was a great flight. I cruised over the Balloon field a couple of times and saw only one balloon that looked like it was going to launch. The rest of the field was loaded with people milling around. There was no way I was going to do a fly-by on the field, so I circled at 75 feet and waved before heading up valley to play with the two locals.
Steamboat is a beautiful place to fly and I look forward to coming back. The valley air was calm and the ski mountain looked like a great climb 3000 feet to the top. There was a freight train rolling down the valley and lots to see. I could have stayed up all morning and would have, except that it was starting to sprinkle and I was worried that it was only going to get worse. After flying around the smaller balloon I turned back to check out my landing options. I used the radio to ask Dawn to clear the field and by the time I had circled once it was free of spectators.
The landing was much like the take off,. narrow with obstructions to avoid. There was no clearing turn before final, I just set up over the Yampa and followed it in. As soon as I cleared the trees I went to idle and touched down exactly right. It felt good,
|Time for showers and breakfast
This is a place I want to come back to, the area is flyer friendly and the view is wonderful. At 6800 feet it’s not to high for a reasonable launch but with the ski area there I could do some serious climbing and never be 50 feet agl.
Till the next time Steamboat.