By the numbers
Ski season airline program quick facts:
Started in 1986-87 ski season
Participating airlines: 4
Airports providing nonstop flights to Hayden: 7
Connecting airports: More than 200
Steamboat Springs Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. released a 2011-12 ski season airline schedule Tuesday that shows a 4 percent increase in seats that weren’t available during last winter’s service. But the 122,700 airline seats still are the second fewest the market has seen since winter 2000-01.
“I’m happy we were able to add the 4 percent,” Ski Corp. Airline Program Director Janet Fischer said. “It’s not where we want to be, but it’s moving in the right direction and definitely comes at a cost.”
The news of Steamboat’s challenge in securing the contracts that assure ski season jet flights comes as the Steamboat Springs City Council is poised to send a measure seeking a 0.25 percent citywide sales tax question to the voters in November. The revenue would be used to increase the airline program’s war chest for future ski seasons.
As of last winter, the resort community had lost more than 44,000 inbound seats throughout a four-year period despite increasing the revenue guarantees it promises airlines that fly into Yampa Valley Regional Airport during the ski season. The 82,514 passengers who arrived in ski season 2010-11 were the fewest since the winter of 1995-96, and the available inbound seats, at 118,360, were the fewest since the winter of 1994-95. That was the year Continental Airlines pulled out of Denver, leading to the cessation of Continental Express flights at Steamboat Springs’ municipal airport.
The new schedule serves the same cities served last winter, including Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Denver, Houston, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Newark, N.J., which together connect with more than 200 smaller markets domestically. Frontier Airlines is back for a second season with daily 90-passenger jet flights from Denver, producing some competition with United Express in that market.
The Steamboat resort community must provide minimum revenue guarantees to the four airlines that operate direct jet flights into YVRA. The total budget this year is $3.35 million, the highest it has ever been and $660,000 more than what Steamboat had to guarantee last winter.
The majority of the funds come from Ski Corp. and the proceeds of a 2 percent lodging tax collected within the Local Marketing District, which captures most of the community resort bed base. The Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association contributes a little more than $100,000 collected from other member businesses as part of the Fly Steamboat program.
The actual amount the resort pays to the airlines is determined by the financial performance of each flight and won’t necessarily hit the full $3.35 million, but the local community still must budget for the full amount, Fischer said.
The biggest change this winter is the restoration of a 160-passenger United/Continental Boeing 737-800 on weekdays from Houston, replacing a smaller 737. That will added 46 seats a day for a total of 3,150 seats through the winter. The increase in seats from Houston offsets the elimination of a second weekend Boeing 757 from Dallas that arrived at YVRA late on Saturdays last winter and didn’t return to Dallas until Sunday morning.
Observing that Texas is by far Steamboat’s single greatest market, Fischer said increasing flights from Houston at the expense of Dallas was the most cost-effective option for Steamboat.
“Ultimately, we’d like to have all these pieces of our flight program,” Fischer said.
Winter 2011-12 flight schedule
Steamboat will gain 1,000 inbound seats next winter thanks to the leap year — flights will operate an extra day Feb. 29. And another 2,500 seats will be gained as Delta Airlines extends its service from Atlanta and Minneapolis from late March last ski season to April 1 this winter.
Fischer and Ski Corp. President Chris Diamond told members of the Yampa Valley Airport Commission last week that market forces including airline fleet reductions, rising fuel costs and airline mergers (which have reduced competition) have contributed to the rising cost of attracting leisure travelers to Steamboat.
— To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com