Chicago flights return

Business community will be asked to ante up

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— Direct jet flights from Chicago's O'Hare Airport into Yampa Valley Regional Airport during ski season have been restored for next winter, and officials of the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. say they are within days of finalizing daily service from Newark International in New Jersey for the first time ever.

Steamboat Vice President of Marketing Andy Wirth said the new daily flights allow his resort to make the claim of being the most conveniently accessed destination ski area in the nation, and he plans to make a lot of noise about that claim in marketing efforts leading up to the winter season.

The announcement comes just two days after Steamboat's parent, American Skiing Company, revealed its intent to sell its assets in Steamboat, including the ski area. Wirth said this is a signal that Steamboat will continue moving forward.

"We're going to compete and win next winter," Wirth vowed.

The reinstatement of daily flights from Chicago replaces hundreds of inbound seats that were missing from Steamboat's airlift last winter when available seats were down more than 11 percent from the previous winter.

The news is offset by the probability that TWA flights originating in Atlanta and connecting via St. Louis will not return next winter. TWA is in the midst of being acquired by American Airlines.

Wirth confirmed that the addition of the new daily flights means he will ask the business community to increase its contributions to the ski corp.'s airline program.

The ski corp. capped its funding of airline flight guarantees last winter at $1.4 million and the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association led a campaign that raised $700,000 from various segments of the business community, including lodging, restaurants, retail and real estate.

The Chicago route will be served this winter by American Airlines, operating 737-800 aircraft with a capacity of 134 passengers.

Service from Chicago begins Dec. 15 and runs through April 6, 2002.

The flight will depart O'Hare at noon and arrive in Steamboat/Hayden at 2 p.m. Outbound flights depart from YVRA at 3:30 p.m. and arrive in Chicago at 6:45 p.m.

The Newark route will be served by Continental Airlines flying a slightly smaller 737-700. Continental has flown to Steamboat/Hayden from Newark on Saturdays for more than five years.

This marks the first time the greater New York market will be served on a daily basis.

Wirth said he heard loudly and clearly from the resort lodging community that restoration of the Chicago flights was at the top of its list.

But the decision to add the two flights wasn't taken without careful study of data on the numbers of Steamboat guests arriving from cities all over the country, and comparing that data with numbers for Steamboat's competitors.

"These decisions were not made on an emotional basis to get back to those cities," Wirth said. "We worked very hard on negotiating the airline program the last two months."

"The Lodging Committee gave Andy Wirth the wish list to get daily flights from Chicago back," committee member Steve Dawes said. "It's at a price that seemed reasonable given the playing field the airlines are using these days. Newark was in the category of 'wouldn't it be nice?' but we never thought we could afford it. This increases jet seats so that they are comparable to a few years ago. These are two important markets, if not the most important markets, to Steamboat."

Dawes said he has been told by ski corp. officials that TWA will not be back with the Atlanta/St. Louis flight next year.

However, Wirth said Midway Airlines has agreed to continue serving Raleigh/Durham, N.C. this year, at least one day per week, and possibly two.

Wirth said the decision to pick up the additional cost of the new daily flights was made possible by the airlines' willingness to place a cap on the amount flight guarantees will cost Steamboat.

Success on that negotiating point limits the downside for Steamboat, while leaving room for the the ski season jet program to "perform" and come in under budget, Wirth said.

Dawes said the lodging committee took extra confidence from the fact that last year's flight program came in at 20 percent less than the operating budget of $2.2 million.

The ski corp. has agreed to increase the amount it will spend on flight guarantees next winter, Dawes said.

The daily American Airline flight from Chicago into Hayden/Steamboat became available for booking on Friday.

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