Holiday demand high in New York

Arriving planes were nearly full over the course of the weekend

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— More than 3,800 holiday skiers streamed into Yampa Valley Regional Airport over the last three days with the only major difficulties occurring on Sunday when steady falling snow and low cloud ceilings contributed to delays.

Arriving flights were 98 percent full on Saturday with demand exceptionally high for all three flights from New York, including the new service from JFK and LaGuardia.

Saturday is the biggest day of the week during ski season at the airport west of Steamboat Springs. On Dec. 22, 1,964 passengers were booked on 17 arriving flights. The flights originating from the New York area accounted for nearly 500 passengers.

Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. Marketing official Andy Wirth said he would have been disappointed if the flights from Newark, LaGuardia and Kennedy International airports had not been sold out on Saturday.

"It was good to see people coming off the mountain with big smiles after a powder day on Friday," Wirth said. "At the same time, I was glad when it cleared up on Saturday because I knew we had a big inbound day at the airport."

In addition to his role as vice president of marketing for Steamboat, Wirth is the executive vice resident of sales and marketing for all 10 of Intrawest's ski resorts.

Sunday saw fewer flights, passengers and some significant delays. Resort officials were expecting arriving flights to be 83 percent full on Sunday with 1,128 travelers.

High traffic volumes and problems with aircraft and crews in other cities created some of the delays on Sunday. But airport officials here also had their hands full coping with the weather.

"It was a challenge to keep up with the snow on Sunday and find places to put all of it," Yampa Valley Regional Airport Manager David Ruppel said. "But we were able to keep the runways clear and it was more an issue of a low ceiling. There were periods where it was below 500 feet."

Several flights on Sunday made multiple approaches before finally touching down, Ruppel added.

The majority of commercial flight crews arriving at YVRA are cleared to land down to ceilings of 250 feet. Some are limited when the cloud ceiling drops to 450 feet, Ruppel said.

He added that all but one United Express flight eventually made it to the airport Sunday.

Ruppel said an American Airlines 757 from Chicago was late after it took off for the Yampa Valley and was then directed to return to Chicago before setting off once again for Steamboat.

A Delta flight from Atlanta was more than 3 hours behind schedule and didn't turn around for the return flight to Atlanta until about 4 p.m.

Its scheduled departure time was 12:26 p.m.

Ruppel said YVRA's recently expanded passenger waiting areas helped people cope with the delays.

"It worked real well," Ruppel said. "I was happy with the flow of things. We had a lot of concerned passengers waiting for return flights in the holding room, but it was a lot more comfortable because people weren't crowded in together and we had both restaurants upstairs and downstairs in operation."

Bobby O'Toole, operations director for Alpine Taxi, said his staff has learned to cope with disrupted airline schedules.

"We've learned to adapt if noting else," O'Toole said. "Even though planes were delayed, the majority of our passengers were happy because they knew there was fresh snow."

O'Toole's company had 37 drivers dedicated to serving the airport on Saturday and all of them made multiple runs. When passengers began arriving without taxi reservations, he said, some of the 10 drivers committed to the city were diverted to the airport.

It was a quieter story at YVRA on Monday when the flights were 60 percent full and airport was expecting 801 inbound passengers. The skies were clear and most flights were on schedule.

Ruppel said the busiest period of the month at the airport would begin with the 10 days just ahead.

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