Steamboat Springs The newest improvements at Yampa Valley Regional Airport already have paid off, Airport Manager Dean Smith said.
Smith said Three Wire Bar & Grill and the new baggage claim area were popular with passengers Thursday, the first day of the 2011-12 winter air service program. He recalled the days from less than a decade ago when a heated white tent was set up outside the terminal to serve as an area for passengers waiting to have their carry-on luggage screened.
“This place has really come a long way,” Smith said. “We’re a big airport now.”
The third and final phase of the more than $23 million airport improvement project that started in 2003 is nearly complete. Improvements have included an expanded terminal, an expanded ticketing area and upgrades to parking and passenger arrival and departure zones.
Smith said all that remains of Phase 3, which included the restaurant construction and baggage claim expansion, are offices and conference space for airport administration. He said that could be done by mid-January.
Chicago, Dallas and Houston each had a nonstop flight arrive Thursday at YVRA, in addition to six flights from Denver, Smith said.
Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. Airline Program Manager Janet Fischer said inbound flights were 79 percent full, bringing 669 passengers to the Yampa Valley. She said outbound flights were 21 percent full with 179 passengers.
Although the number of flights Thursday increased to nine from the three or four daily flights typical of the offseason, Ski Corp. doesn’t expect guest visits to really ramp up until the weekend, when additional daily nonstop flights from Atlanta and Minneapolis/St. Paul as well as the Saturday flight from Newark start, spokeswoman Loryn Kasten said.
The Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association’s weekly lodging barometer forecasts that local hotels, motels and nightly-rental condominiums will be 51 percent occupied Saturday with about 8,100 guests. That’s up from the Dec. 10 projection of 38 percent, or about 5,600 guests.
By Wednesday, the lodging properties are forecast to be 65 percent full with about 10,300 guests.
“We’re always excited when our winter flights start because it means that the holiday season is about to begin and all of our guests from around the world are starting to descend on the resort and town,” Kasten said.
Kasten said Ski Corp. will open the Elkhead lift Friday, making additional terrain available. She said nine lifts would serve 70 trails on 967 acres, or about 32 percent of the ski area’s terrain.
Smith praised airport employees for a smooth first day of the winter air service program.
“We had beautiful weather — typical,” he said. “The only thing we need now is more snow.”
— To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com