Steamboat Springs Steamboat Ski Area opened for the season Nov. 21, but it’s several dates throughout the next week that signal the real start to winter for many in Steamboat Springs, particularly those employees and businesses that rely on winter tourism.
Ski season flight service into Hayden’s Yampa Valley Regional Airport began this week and will continue to ramp up through next weekend, bringing thousands of second-home owners and vacationers from across the country to Steamboat during the next four months.
"Bring it on; let 'er rip," Assistant Airport Manager Dean Smith said Friday. "We've been working hard all summer making the airport ready."
On Friday, Smith said that about 300 passengers arrived at YVRA and that things are about to get very busy.
"It really starts to pick up about Dec. 20," Smith said, adding that on some days, there will be 1,160 passengers arriving on the available 1,200 seats.
Daily service on American Airlines from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport to YVRA began Thursday. Those flights will continue to operate daily through April 1. On Wednesday, United Airlines will add a fourth daily flight from Denver to Hayden. Also Wednesday, United will begin its daily Houston to YVRA route on a 160-passenger 737.
The remainder of the 2012-13 ski season flights begin next weekend with direct routes from Atlanta, Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Newark, N.J. The Atlanta flight, operated by Delta Airlines, is daily through Jan. 7 on a 160-passenger 737. The flight then operates Wednesday through Monday from Jan. 8 to March 31.
The Minneapolis-St. Paul route, also operated by Delta, is daily through March 31 on a 76-passenger ERJ-175. The United-based Newark flight is Saturdays through March 30 on a 120-passenger A319.
The Los Angeles flight is new to Steamboat’s ski season flight program this year and taps into what resort officials here hope is a lucrative market of Southern California vacationers as well as Australians who can use the L.A. flight as an easy connection to Steamboat. Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. officials have said Australians now represent half of the international visitors who come to Steamboat each winter. The L.A. flight will operate Saturdays and Sundays through March 24 using a 66-passenger jet.
"I'm really looking forward to it because it's a new market," Smith said. "I want to see some West Coast business here."
All told, the ski season flights represent about 111,000 arriving plane seats. Depending on plane loads and airline revenues from tickets for those arriving passengers, the Local Marketing District and Ski Corp. could be on the hook for as much as $4 million in revenue guarantees for the airlines. Ski Corp. will provide at least $1.1 million of that total, followed by $100,000 from the Fly Steamboat program and $2.2 million from local tax sources — a 2 percent Local Marketing District lodging tax and a new 0.25 percent city of Steamboat Springs sales tax. Ski Corp. would provide the funds for any remaining shortfall up to the $4 million cap.
Despite the beginning of ski season flights into YVRA, overnight guest bookings remain relatively soft this weekend, with the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association’s lodging barometer predicting 6,400 guests Saturday night, or about 43 percent occupancy. That’s down from the 7,600 guests who actually stayed overnight in Steamboat lodging properties on the corresponding Saturday last December. An early look at Dec. 22 predicts 7,200 overnight visitors in local lodging properties.