Ski season lands at Yampa Valley Regional Airport | SteamboatToday.com

Ski season lands at Yampa Valley Regional Airport

Winter flight program kicked off Thursday; planes 95 percent full

— The number of passengers arriving at Yampa Valley Regional Airport on Thursday quadrupled from earlier in the week, with airport officials preparing to accommodate significantly more pre-holiday travelers Saturday.

Direct ski season flights from Chicago, Dallas and Houston began Thursday, with 862 passengers deplaning in Hayden. Those planes were 95 percent full, according to flight information provided by Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.

Thursday's passenger numbers were significantly higher than the 136 people who deplaned Tuesday at YVRA. But with even more ski season flights scheduled to begin arriving this weekend, Thursday's total will be quickly forgotten.

"That's nothing," Assistant Airport Manager Dean Smith said as he watched the last big jet of the day take off for Houston at 2:30 p.m. "We're expecting as many as 1,800 (passengers) on Saturday."

Ski Corp. Airline Program Director Janet Fischer said the fact that both Christmas and New Year's Day fall on Fridays this year meshes well with the weekly airline schedule. People prefer to travel the day after the holidays, and Steamboat's inbound airline capacity is greater on Saturdays than on any other day of the week, she pointed out.

"The two biggest arrival days will be Dec. 19 and 26," Fischer said. "The fact that it lands on Saturdays is positive for us."

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By this weekend, the roster of flights will have increased to include a 160-passenger 737-800 from Atlanta, a second 188-passenger 757 from Dallas, and a 124-passenger Airbus from Minneapolis/St. Paul. A regional jet from Salt Lake City will join the parade, as will a 757 from New York's LaGuardia Airport.

And as it has done for years, United Airlines added an Airbus scheduled to arrive at 9:31 p.m. It will remain at the airport overnight so it can be the first flight out every morning.

The lodging barometer produced by the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association anticipates that Steamboat's hotels and condominiums will be 57 percent full Saturday night with 9,891 guests in town. That compares to the forecast 62 percent for the corresponding Saturday in 2008. Late arrivals on Dec. 20, 2008, boosted total visitors to 11,578.

Chamber Executive Vice President Sandy Evans Hall said that based on new analytical tools being brought into play this ski season, resort officials are optimistic that actual visitor numbers are greater than what the lodging barometer shows. For the first time, the Chamber and Ski Corp. are analyzing visitation attributable to visiting friends and family of Steamboat residents, second-home owners and owners of fractional condos, Evans Hall said.

The new "effective occupancy reports" are intended to help resort-based businesses provide optimum guest service by giving them better insight into their own staffing needs throughout the winter.

It is the condos at the ski area that account for by far the greatest share of Steamboat's bed base of 17,352 pillows, Evans Hall added, and early indicators are that on the night after Christmas, they won't see the 90 percent occupancy they have enjoyed over the holidays in other years. The early lodging barometer forecast for Dec. 26 anticipates 11,452 visitors in town with mountain condos 64 percent full.

Steve Frasier, president of Mountain Resorts property management company, offered a possible explanation. He told a Chamber gathering last week that discounted vacation packages offered for the December period before the holidays has changed booking patterns, causing some travelers eager for good deals to ski earlier than in past years.

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