Chris Cole started as the manager of Steamboat Springs Airport in early January. “There isn't a manual for this job,” Cole said Tuesday. “You just have to jump right in.”

Photo by Scott Franz

Chris Cole started as the manager of Steamboat Springs Airport in early January. “There isn't a manual for this job,” Cole said Tuesday. “You just have to jump right in.”

New Steamboat Springs Airport manager starting to settle in

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— As Chris Cole picked up a radio Tuesday and announced to air traffic control he was making a quick drive across Runway 32, it was easy to see that Steamboat Springs' new airport manager has landed his dream job.

Here, at the airfield surrounded by mountains, he's been tapped not only to run an airport but also to plan for it to become a better and more utilized gateway to the city.

“It's a blast,” he said Tuesday about his new job as he demonstrated how clicking a button inside his pickup changed the brightness of the runway lights.

Cole, 30, moved into his new office in early January and found just an empty desk.

The emptiness has been replaced by flight magazines, architectural drawings of the runway and a frame filled with old concert stubs, library cards, driver's licenses and an old press pass from his college newspaper that Cole has collected throughout his life.

"This keeps me motivated," he said about the framed mementos. "It reminds me of where I've been and where I'm at."

Steamboat Springs Airport hadn't had an official manager since Mel Baker left for the Front Range in September, and there were lots of emails to respond to and work to get caught up on.

With heavy snow falling, Cole's first days on the job also were spent learning the rhythm of how the airport staff removes all the snow from the runway early in the morning.

“There isn't a manual for this job,” Cole said. “You just have to jump right in.”

Since he's arrived, he's started planning for the next Wild West Air Fest, and he's worked with private hangar owners to ensure a new air ambulance found some room in a hangar at the airport.

This summer, construction is expected to start on new airport hangars.

Longer term, Cole will build a case to secure funding for an extension of the runway and work to make the airport generate more revenue.

“This is a gateway to the city,” he said. “How do we provide a greater first experience to people passing through?”

Now that he's starting to settle in here, Cole said he's looking forward to the day when all the emails are caught up and he has more time to work on bigger-picture ideas aimed at making this city's airport a more appealing place to fly into and out of.

“Once things settle down, I want to get out and show people the value of this airport,” he said.

Before he arrived here, Cole said it was this airport's potential that attracted him to Steamboat the most.

And there's already some evidence that although the airport is limited in terms of the growth of its facilities and hangars, the airport could become a busier place in years to come.

Jet fuel sales were up substantially in February and January, mirroring the uptick in economic activity in the region.

And the arrival of the new air ambulance service also shows there still are some aviators who are interested in setting up new ventures at the airport.

“It's a cool place to fly,” Cole said. “The prices are competitive, and we can tie in a lot of summer and winter activities.”

Steamboat Springs Airport is a general aviation airport that saw 11,738 operations last year, including takeoffs and landings. A recent Colorado Department of Transportation study found the airport's average annual economic output is $8.8 million.

Steamboat residents who don't own an airplane may think they don't have any business being up at the airport.

Cole would strongly disagree.

He enjoys showing pilots and walk-ins around his new office, the heavy equipment everyone uses to maintain it and, of course, Ted the cat.

“This isn't the golf club. This isn't a private club,” Cole said as he rattled off a list of things that go on at the airport from Civil Air Patrol to the Wild West Air Fest to flying lessons. “Yes, I'm the manager of this place, but I'm also an educator. I love showing people around this place.”

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10

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