Ski season flights began arriving at Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden last week, bringing winter tourists to Northwest Colorado on five airlines.
Ski season seats at YVRA have grown 9 percent since last year, with space for 165,193 travelers, and the number of nonstop destinations has increased to 10 - both the largest figures in the airport's history.
The first jumbo jets of the season arrived Thursday afternoon, when a pair of 188-passenger Boeing 757s touched down on American Airlines flights from Dallas-Fort Worth and Chicago.
"Everybody's pretty excited to have the first jets come in," Airport Manager Dave Ruppel said.
"It's definitely a key part of getting folks to Steamboat, the big jets and the ease of access," said Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. spokesman Mike Lane.
Daily service from Denver aboard United Airlines' 120-passenger Boeing 737s and twice-daily service aboard United Express' 66-passenger Canadair Regional Jets also began this weekend. United Airlines' nonstop service from Chicago O'Hare International Airport began Saturday.
Continental Airlines also began its seasonal flights, with daily service from Houston and Newark aboard Boeing 737s.
New for this season is Delta Airlines' service from New York-JFK airport. Service on the new route is scheduled to begin Saturday, along with Delta's nonstop flights from New York-LaGuardia and Atlanta.
Lynx Aviation, a turboprop subsidiary of Denver-based Frontier Airlines, received its long-awaited approval from the Federal Aviation Administration on Dec. 6 and began flights the next day. Although the carrier previously had been in talks to bring service to Colorado mountain resorts including Steamboat, YVRA is not among its initial destinations.
Lynx began flying its Bombardier Q-400 planes between Denver and six cities:
Rapid City, S.D.; Sioux City, Iowa; Wichita, Kan.; Billings, Mont.; Albuquerque, N.M.; and Tulsa, Okla.
Lynx originally planned to begin offering flights in the summer, but its federal certification experienced multiple delays. Earlier this year, resort officials were anticipating twice-daily, year-round flights to YVRA, adding an additional 20,000 ski season seats.
YVRA has plenty of space to accommodate service from Lynx, including available gate and ticket counters, Ruppel said.
The airport engaged in discussions with representatives of Lynx earlier this year, looking at the best windows of time in YVRA's flight schedule for additional turboprop flights, given parking and staffing limitations at the small facility, Ruppel said.
"When and if they decide to come up into the Steamboat area, we can certainly accommodate their operations here," Ruppel said.
Further expansion of ski season flights at YVRA is key to increasing winter tourism in Steamboat, Lane said.
"The more access we have, the more folks you'll see coming to Steamboat and taking advantage of the resort," Lane said.
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