Hayden With about 90 percent of incoming airline seats full, Saturday could prove to be the busiest day of the ski season at Yampa Valley Regional Airport.
For about three hours each day during the holidays, YVRA takes on the feel of a major airport as vacation passengers depart and arrive from destinations throughout the United States.
With the third and final phase of a $23 million airport improvement project nearly complete, this year YVRA feels even more like what some might dub a “real airport.”
“It’s beautiful,” said Donna Hellyer, who has greeted visitors at the airport for about 12 years. “People have come in, and they’re just amazed.”
The improvements were a welcome sight to Friday’s 866 inbound passengers, many of whom were headed to the slopes in Steamboat Springs.
“I think it’s important, especially for people who come here for the first time because it’s their first impression,” said Mike Sample, a Minneapolis resident who has been visiting Steamboat and flying through YVRA for nearly 20 years. “It’s more spacious and clean. There is room to move around even with all the planes here.”
The new Three Wire Bar & Grill is one of the hallmarks of Phase 3, which cost $6.8 million. The well-lit, airy and finely finished restaurant located centrally between check-in and baggage claim saw a steady stream of customers Friday. The old restaurant was located upstairs.
“It’s been really steady, and everyone seems happy with their meals,” waitress Katie Wilson said.
Restaurant general manager Tami Fricault said the business now operated by Routt County was on track to double its December sales compared to what the restaurant vendor did in December 2010.
“Our pulled pork and buffalo brats are pretty much flying out of here,” Fricault said.
Restaurant patron Jeff Goetz, of Seattle, was eating lunch with his daughter Hannah O’Flanagan and called the $9.95 bratwurst spicy and tasty. Hannah, 12, enjoyed more than her macaroni and cheese at the new grill.
“It’s really nice, too,” she said.
Fricault said the restaurant aims to be open for dinner to serve residents in nearby Hayden.
Chad Hare was celebrating his birthday with a piece of carrot cake at the restaurant, which he helped build as the project superintendent for Holmquist-Lorenz Construction Co.
“It’s one of the hardest ones I’ve ever done, but everyone pulled together at the end and was able to make it happen,” Hare said. “It was three months after we had a structure and a building to put this all together.”
Hare said they hope to have the new administration offices on the second floor completed by the end of January.
One of the less glamorous but necessary components of the addition was another baggage carousel.
“It allows us to get more people out of the airport quicker,” said Dean Smith, YVRA’s assistant airport manager.
A game room now is where Gate 1 used to be located, and a wide hallway now efficiently ushers arriving passengers past the new visitor information desk and the baggage claim.
“That was huge,” Smith said.
The additions at the airport seem thus far to be a welcome sight for passengers, of which there are more this year than there were at this point in 2010.
“We’re up 5 or 7 percent, which is good,” Smith said.