Ski corp., Continental to trim winter schedule

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— The Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. and Continental Airlines have agreed to trim more than 5,000 inbound seats from their winter schedule between Newark and Yampa Valley Regional Airport near Hayden.

Ski Corp. Marketing Vice President Andy Wirth attributed the reduction to continuing indecisiveness on the part of travelers who live in the greater New York metro area. In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, those potential travelers are more inclined to take a wait-and-see attitude than people elsewhere, Wirth said. The ski corp. had placed a high degree of emphasis on the addition of daily flights from Newark throughout the summer.

"The decision was based on current bookings and a lack of pacing for midweek flights in December and January," Wirth said Tuesday. His use of the term "pacing" means that four to eight weeks out, the rate at which reservations are coming in, doesn't inspire confidence.

"We've had a handful of clients who were re-booked through Houston," Wirth said.

Steamboat will still have more than 8,500 inbound seats from Newark this winter, Wirth said. That number is down from the 14,260 originally contracted.

Wirth added that the decision was made well before the outcome of Tuesday's vote on the local 3-2-1 sales tax, which would have helped fund the winter airline program, was known.

Wirth declined to discuss the level of ski season reservations. He attributed his reluctance to ongoing negotiations over the sale of the ski area, which are thought to be in their final stages. As recently as the first week in October, Wirth talked openly about the downward trend in reservations for the holiday period.

The reduction in the Newark service will begin with a one-week delay in its start. As recently as the end of July, Continental planned to initiate ski season service to Hayden, about 25 miles west of Steamboat, on Dec. 15. Now, that date has been pushed back to Dec. 22, when daily flights will begin. The first round of daily service will last only until Jan. 5. After that date, the Newark/Hayden route will shift to Saturday only on Jan. 12, Jan. 19, Jan. 26, Feb. 2 and Feb. 9.

Daily flights are planned to resume Feb. 14 and continue through April 6.

Wirth said the ski corp. approached the airline two to three weeks ago and suggested the reduction in the flight schedule.

Wirth said national surveys show that confidence in airline travel among consumers is returning more slowly in the New York area than in other regions of the country. Travelers who respond that they will wait before making travel plans this winter average 18-21 percent nationwide, Wirth said. In New York, the number is just over 30

percent.

The ski corp. expressed great enthusiasm on the Newark flights in June, pointing out that New York, along with Chicago, is among the top two markets for destination skiers. Wirth said the ski corp. hasn't given up on hopes that New Yorkers will regain their enthusiasm for ski vacations this winter.

"We have every reason to believe that market will rebound," he said.

Wirth pointed out that New Yorkers still wishing to fly into Hayden mid-week during January and early February can do so by making connections through Houston. They also have the option of flying two airline legs to arrive in the Yampa Valley via Houston, then returning on one of the Saturday direct flights.

The Houston route was bolstered by approximately 3,000 seats this winter with the shift to a larger version of the 737 aircraft on the route.

The number of inbound seats from Houston has increased this winter, and with the reduction of Newark service, Steamboat still has almost 141,000 total inbound seats compared to 126,000 last winter.

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