Air travel trimmed | SteamboatToday.com

Air travel trimmed

Ski season flight program navigates industry turbulence

Blythe Terrell

Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. in June announced the 2008-09 ski season flight program to Yampa Valley Regional Airport. Total available seats are down slightly from 2007-08 numbers, but officials are pleased with the program given the state of the airline industry.

— Slightly fewer airplane seats will be available to Steamboat Springs visitors next ski season.

Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. released preliminary air travel capacity information Monday for Yampa Valley Regional Airport for the 2008-09 ski season. A New York flight and a Chicago flight have been dropped, and several airlines will end service earlier than usual.

The changes reflect “as volatile an environment as I’ve ever seen in the travel industry,” said Andy Wirth, chief marketing officer for Intrawest, Ski Corp.’s parent company.

Crude oil was trading at more than $130 a barrel Monday afternoon. The record-high costs have shoved up jet fuel costs, and airlines are cutting capacity and jobs and increasing fees and fares.

Ski Corp. expects a total of 159,000 seats to be available for 2008-09. In 2007-08, a record year for the flight program, 162,915 were available.

Delta Air Lines and Continental Airlines will continue to offer nonstop flights to the New York area. Delta flies to LaGuardia Airport, and Continental provides service to Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey. Delta’s flight to JFK International Airport will be cut for 2008-09.

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Steamboat negotiators and Delta agreed it would be best to drop the route next season, Wirth said. But he said he expects the JFK flight to return in a year or two.

“New York remains one of the most, if not the most, lucrative ski markets in North America,” Wirth said.

United Airlines will drop its Chicago flight. That route is not part of the Local Marketing District’s deal with airlines, which guarantees carriers a certain amount of revenue and covers the difference each year.

The guaranteed revenue from that marketing district allows Steamboat to plan air travel with an eye toward the long term, Wirth said.

“If it wasn’t for that taxing district, we’d be in a very challenged position,” he said.

As it stands, Steamboat is in a better place than many other ski resorts, Wirth said. The Steamboat Ski Area is set to be open from about Nov. 26, 2008, to April 12, 2009. Most flights start in mid-December and stop in late March or early April. Only United has scheduled flights – three a day from Denver – for the full season.

Five commercial airlines will fly to YVRA next season: American Airlines, Continental, Delta, Northwest Airlines and United. Nonstop daily flights will arrive from Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Salt Lake City, Minneapolis and Denver. The Newark and New York City flights are Saturdays only.

In the past several months, one negative airline announcement has followed another. Continental plans to cut 3,000 jobs and reduce capacity by 11 percent, the Associated Press reported. United plans to cut up to 1,100 jobs and ground 70 airplanes. American plans to cut capacity 11 percent to 12 percent after summer and probably cut thousands of jobs, the AP reported.

Sandy Evans Hall, executive vice president of Steamboat’s Chamber Resort Association, is involved with the Local Marketing District.

“I think we’re all in agreement that the direction the ski area is contracting with the airlines is the right direction,” Evans Hall said.

Those in the tourism field are watching airline and travel trends carefully, she said.

“We’re really still a few months away, so it’s hard to be able to project it in full, but what we’re seeing in terms of airfare pricing is very concerning,” Evans Hall said. Prices are up $180 to $200 on many round-trip flights, Wirth said.

Steamboat’s negotiating team does have some influence over those costs, he said, and has tried to keep them reasonable. But Ski Corp. is focused on making sure the resort is accessible.

“We know people will want to come to Steamboat,” Wirth said. “They want to come here; they want to reconnect with their families. We’re going to make it easier than heck for them to come here.”

– To reach Blythe Terrell, call 871-4234 or e-mail bterrell@steamboatpilot.com

Yampa Valley Regional Airport by the numbers

2007-08 ski season passengers

November: 7,167

December: 34,190

January: 58,921

February: 62,299

March: 65,334

April: 8,414

*includes arriving and departing passengers

– Source: YVRA