Momentum strong for ski season

Airline passenger bookings ahead of typical numbers

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The effects of 432 inches of snow during the 2005-06 ski season appear to be carrying over to the upcoming season.

The Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. typically has nearly one-third of its total winter bookings by mid-October.

Although Andy Wirth, vice president of marketing for Ski Corp., cannot discuss bookings made through the company's Central Reservations, he can talk about the number of passengers who have booked seats on winter air service flights into Yampa Valley Regional Airport.

The number of passengers already booked on winter flights - which start in mid-December - is up 6 percent compared to the same time last year and 13 percent over two years ago. That 6 percent means an additional 2,000 passengers.

The increase can be attributed, in part, to the addition of a daily nonstop Atlanta flight, which reaches the southeast markets.

"We're especially pleased with how the Atlanta flight is performing," Wirth said.

Bookings on the nonstop Houston flights also are strong, and the Chicago and Dallas flights are performing to expectations, he said.

Ski Corp. also is experiencing the single largest jump in two decades in terms of the total number of seats available on YVRA flights, Wirth said. There are about 14 percent more seats available this winter.

"We would not be looking at a number that big if it weren't for that new airport," Wirth said.

The second phase of a three-phase airport expansion is expected to be finished this winter. The goal of the $16 million Phase 2 terminal expansion is to double the size of the existing terminal. When complete, the additional 23,500 square feet will be used to create significantly larger passenger areas, new ticket counters and a snack bar seating area on the same level as passenger waiting areas at the county-owned airport.

Phase 3 will expand the baggage claim area.

"We will have the best airport in the Rocky Mountain region," Wirth said.

There are about 155,000 seats available with the expanded winter service flights. About two-thirds of Ski Corp.'s customers arrive via YVRA, Wirth said.

He said the next 45 to 60 days will show the impact of Ski Corp.'s marketing efforts, but Wirth attributed the jump in ticketed passengers to an early and aggressive sales campaign. Also, word has spread about the more than $7 million in capital improvement projects being done on the mountain, and there is continued talk of the 432 inches of snow that dropped on Steamboat last season, he said.

Wirth has downplayed the snow as the reason for a successful 2005-06 season, but it is having an impact on numbers for the upcoming season.

"People who say that snow drove last year are significantly uninformed," Wirth said. "This time last year we were showing very strong numbers for the season even before the snow fell."

- To reach Matt Stensland, call 871-4210 or e-mail mstensland@steamboatpilot.com

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