Steamboat Springs More than 14,000 ski vacationers are expected to spend the weekend in Steamboat Springs, many of them having stepped off a direct airline flight arriving at Yampa Valley Regional Airport from cities like Newark, Atlanta, Seattle and Los Angleles.
That makes this Winter Carnival weekend an appropriate time to recall the lives of two men who recently died within a month of each other — two men who were determined, in the mid-1980s, to restore commercial airline service to the airport in Hayden, particularly during ski season. Without the efforts and vision of former Routt County Commissioner Bill Haight and former chairman of the board of Steamboat Ski Area’s parent company Martin Hart, the Yampa Valley’s resort economy might not be as robust as it is in 2014.
Three decades ago, YVRA had no commercial air service at all. But within the span of two years, Haight and Hart collaborated to widen and lengthen the runway and attract direct jet flights from four major cities. Haight’s faith that Routt County could use its own employees and machines to modernize the airport runway, and Hart’s deal-making prowess changed the local resort economy forever.
Steamboat Today published an article about Hart’s multifaceted business career Jan. 7.
Haight, whose family’s roots in the Yampa Valley extend back a century, died Sunday at age 80, a couple of days after suffering a heart attack. Hart died Jan. 3 at age 77. The two men once enjoyed a friendship that helped their cause.
“They were real close. They were real good friends who knew each other very well,” Haight’s son, Greg, said Thursday.
Bill Haight will be given a singular memorial in the midst of the 101st Winter Carnival with a funeral Mass at 2 p.m. Saturday in the Steamboat Springs Community Center. But before and after the services, family and friends will enjoy Winter Carnival events in the morning and then take in one of the biggest fireworks shows Steamboat has seen at Howelsen Hill.
“We’re saying that the fireworks Saturday night are in his honor — it’s our family joke,” Greg Haight said. “It’s pretty nice for Steamboat to give him that sendoff.”
When Haight joined the Routt County Board of Commissioners in 1983, the airport in Hayden had been without commercial airline service since June when a startup airline had its only turboprop aircraft repossessed.
In those days, the county owned and operated both YVRA and Bob Adams Field in Steamboat Springs. Rocky Mountain Airways flew between Steamboat and Denver with a de Havilland Dash-7, a four-engine turboprop. But the airline was often late in rent payments to the county.
The real impetus for expanding YVRA was the news that the Calloway brothers, who owned Crested Butte Ski Area, had secured ski season jet flights on American Airlines from Dallas and Chicago.
That lit a fire under Hart, and he began negotiations with several airlines. The problem was that the runway needed an estimated $4 million in upgrades. Haight realized he could cut that number in half if he used the county’s own workforce and road equipment, and the city and Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. chipped in. And they banged the job out in one late autumn.
Haight also made a successful trip to Seattle, Wash., where he persuaded Federal Aviation Administration officials of the need for a new instrument landing system at the airport.
Hart persuaded Aspen Airways that same autumn to fly its 86-passenger British Aerospace 146 jets to YVRA from Dallas twice a week with a stop in between in Denver. Ski Corp. Vice President of Marketing Kent Myers nailed down the contract.
A year later, with the instrument landing system installed, American Airlines took over the Dallas route and added a flight from Chicago, while Pacific Southwest promised flights from Los Angeles and San Francisco.
But on a surprising note, just days after that jet service was announced in November, Haight was upset in his bid for re-election. Undaunted, he went on to serve on the Colorado State Highway Commission and the Colorado Aeronautics Board.
“My dad was devoted to public service since he was 35 years old,” Greg Haight said. “He taught us to just complete projects and that recognition didn’t matter.”
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1