The story behind the Winter Carnival fireworks display will blow your mind—pun intended.
For starters, the largest firework in the world was detonated at the Steamboat Winter Carnival in 2020. The mortar the firework was shot out of was 26-feet long and weighed 7 tons. The firework itself weighed 2,800 pounds. It was shot a half mile into the air at 300 miles per hour and the mortar was blown almost 23 feet into the air.
“There were 56 pages of engineering for building just the mortar,” says Tim Borden, the mastermind behind every Winter Carnival and Fourth of July fireworks display in Steamboat for the better part of the last two decades. “I had the mortar made in Washington and brought down here on a semi-truck. Ed MacArthur was an important member of our four-person team. With his company, Native Excavating, he did the finish welding on the mortar, and with the help of his son Charlie, spent weeks burying all mortars on Emerald, the last of which was essentially a shaft 26 feet deep that required de-watering. There are a lot of logistics involved and it’s an enormous cost. My wife doesn’t even know what I spent on the world-record firework,” he says with a chuckle.
Borden’s story is about more than a local Steamboat attorney who built the world’s largest firework in his backyard barn. Borden came to Steamboat in 1974 and worked as the public defender. In the late 70s, he and his business partner decided to invest in the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town of Lay, Colorado located 20 minutes west of Craig on Highway 40. They purchased 58 of the 60 lots in town including the gas station and the school. “I realized that since we owned all the property back then, heck, it was almost 45 years ago, that you could obtain a permit for fireworks by having a sheriff and a mayor of a town sign off it.”
He got the permit, of course.
When Borden approached Steamboat County Commissioners to get permission to put on a fireworks display in Steamboat at the Charlotte Perry house in the late 70s, the County Commissioners said they couldn’t give permission but said “have a good show!” After a number of years with what Borden refers to as “tacit and limited approval” he produced fireworks into the late ‘80s. Finally, the City of Steamboat approached him to put on the public fireworks display so he could take that burden off the Fire Department.
“The City came to me and said, ‘we’ll buy ‘em, you blow ‘em up and shoot ‘em off,’ and I thought, ‘This is super,’ and that’s what got me started, and so, we started building the show. When the Steamboat Winter Sports Club first approached me to do the fireworks on Howelsen Hill for the Winter Carnival, I could not have been happier.”
Borden has been in charge ever since then. These days, he’s fully permitted and insured. For over 15 years, Borden has provided all the fireworks for the show. He’s especially happy to have the chance to produce a fireworks show in the winter now that dry conditions have often prohibited a fireworks display on the Fourth of July.
All good things must eventually come to an end, and this year will unfortunately be his last. Borden was seriously injured in an accident a year ago and is now paralyzed from the waist down. “2020 was the last year for me being on the hill for Winter Carnival, but I’ve continued to donate the cost of all fireworks, including what is used for the Lighted Man and Gooding Brothers ‘Roman Candle Dancers.’ I donated a couple thousand pounds of fireworks, my firing systems, and all mortars to the City of Steamboat in 2021.”
But the show isn’t over—yet.
“This year I have one last large firework that will likely be the largest in the state if not the U.S.” he says. “Frankly, I’m surprised we still hold the world record and that no one from China or Japan has said, ‘Why have we allowed this little town in the U.S. to hold the record so long?’” Borden is proud to uphold such a beloved Winter Carnival tradition and with a flawless safety record to boot. “It’s always been a passion of mine, but I don’t put my efforts ahead of anyone else in this community. What makes Steamboat so unique is there are so many of us that volunteer our time and money to support the town. It takes a village, and I’m just happy to be part of that village.” Borden may be retiring, but you can be sure he’ll go out with a bang.
For more information on the Steamboat Winter Extravaganza, go to: www.sswsc.org/events/winter-carnival