Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs' winter jet service got off to a good start Thursday with American Airlines flight 2229 and its 104 passengers arriving a few minutes early.
"This is the beginning," said Donna Hellyer, who works at the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association visitor information kiosk at the Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden.
The Portell family, from St. Louis, was aboard the inaugural 2006-07 winter jet service flight. About two-thirds of Steamboat's out-of-state visitors use the flights to get to Routt County, Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. Vice President of Marketing Andy Wirth said.
"We're not always on the first flight, but we always come early," said Greg Portell, who has vacationed in Steamboat with his family at least once a year since 1998.
He said the plane left the gate in Dallas and rolled directly onto the runway for takeoff.
"It's like they knew it was the inaugural flight," Portell said. "I fly a lot, and that never happens."
A Boeing 757 carrying skiers from Chicago arrived about an hour later, and daily flight arrivals will become more frequent as Christmas nears.
"We could be looking at one of the busiest Christmases on record based on the air arrivals," Wirth said.
There are more than 15 percent more plane seats available this year than in previous years, thanks in part to the addition of a non-stop daily Atlanta flight and a Saturday flight from New York's LaGuardia airport. The additional capacity would not have been possible, Wirth said, if it weren't for an ongoing airport expansion project, which has doubled the size of the terminal at YVRA.
"Steamboat has more (plane) seats than it's ever had," Wirth said. "When we say Steamboat has never been easier to get to, there is evidence to support that."
Bookings compared to the same time last year are up about 9 percent, Wirth said. He said Christmas traffic is carrying over into the first week of January.
"It won't calm down as quickly as it has in the past," said Wirth, adding that businesses should plan accordingly.
Arrivals will peak the three days after Christmas, and departures will peak the three days after New Year's Day, he said.
While the holiday season numbers look strong, the pre-holiday rush doesn't appear to be as strong as it was last year.
The Chamber estimated that 9,000 visitors will spend the night at local lodgings Saturday. About 11,500 people stayed in Steamboat the corresponding Saturday in 2006, when abundant early December snow created unforgettable ski conditions.
Nevertheless, Steamboat residents and retailers should prepare themselves for the season, said Sandy Evans Hall, executive vice president of the Chamber.
"Enjoy and put your smile on and get ready for a lot of visitors coming into our town," she said.
Snow is forecast tonight through early next week.