Text & photos by Dick Butler

Our pilot, Ian [a Brit with a strong accent], owner of Wild West Balloon Adventures, had quite a wit about him. He joked, told stories and inquired about our business as ski journalists. But his business, was serious, and at the same time exciting, as he held our safety and entertainment in his hands and heart as we rose two-thousand feet above Steamboat Springs Colorado and the surroundingYampa Valley. It was immediate and obvious to all six passengers that Ian knew exactly what he was doing.

Luck was with us on this early morning, as the sky was clear, with just a bit of a chill. I have been a passenger in a hot air balloon a couple of times. I learned you are totally at the mercy of the weather. One trip took five appointments before actually leaving the ground, but this day we rose quietly above the valley floor in a sturdy wicker basket without delay.

Holding tight to the rope grips provided, we observed all the venues that Steamboat has to offer. The mountain glowed white against the bare ground of the surrounding hills and developments, horses grazed in a fenced-in yard, a man-made water ski pond grabbed my attention, and luxury sub-divisions stood out with their many faceted roof shapes and gigantic floor plans. Cars streamed by on the highway below. A stream meandered placidly through town, and the sounds of a small city bounced skyward to entertain us all. Ian demonstrated how he could make the balloon spin by pulling on tethers. He pulsed the propane-fired heaters to make us rise as needed.

Our flight of forty-five minutes seemed like ten, when Ian let the air temperature drop within the bright red, yellow, and blue behemoth breathing with the occasional burst of the propane flame above our warm heads. We slowly started our descent. There was frequent conversation with the ground crew. We watched as the ground crew chased us in the pick-up van as the shadow of our craft danced over the landscape. Ian mentioned that had we been an observer on the ground within the ship’s shadow, we would have experienced a “ballooning eclipse”.

Below us were pastures, a swamp, fences, and a high-speed highway. Ian’s experience allowed him to gently set the wicker basket down on the narrow highway median, between a fence and the road. Marvelous!

We were ushered back to home base where the traditional champagne toast and flight certificates were waiting. This was just the start of a triple-header day. Now off for a few mountain runs, then horseback riding.

Check out www.wildwestballooning.com
(Formerly Pegasus Balloon Tours)

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