Experiences of ski vacationers flying to Steamboat on Monday were all over the trail map | SteamboatToday.com

Experiences of ski vacationers flying to Steamboat on Monday were all over the trail map

A Delta Airlines Airbus-320 with green de-icing fluid visible on its tail section takes off for Atlanta from Yampa Valley Regional Airport and quickly disappears into the low cloud ceiling Monday afternoon. Flights in and out of the airport in Hayden were booked to carry 8,636 passengers from last Friday through Monday.

— When Natalie Laser, of Fontana, Wisconsin, stepped off her American Airlines flight from Chicago at Yampa Valley Regional Airport on Monday, she considered herself one of the lucky ones. But that was before she learned her luggage didn't arrive with her.

Airport personnel ultimately took good care of Laser. Walking away from the luggage claims desk, she showed off a voucher providing her with a rental snowboard, boots, goggles, a helmet, powder suit and even hat and gloves from one of Steamboat's best ski shops.

"When we were on the ground in Chicago, they were asking for 17 people to get off the plane" because the plane was overweight, Laser said, as she hurried off to board her taxi.

Laser's friend Nolan Grace, of Austin, Texas, was also on the 76-passenger American Airlines Embraer 175 that arrived from Chicago just a minute behind schedule at 11:46 a.m.

Grace said he learned in the boarding area at O'Hare International Airport that Sunday's flight to YVRA also had been overweight and the airline was trying to get caught up on some of the baggage and equipment left behind from that flight Monday.

"They started by offering vouchers and nobody took them, so they started pulling people off the plane," Grace said. "It gave me a little heart attack when they called my name. I said, 'I'm not going to make this flight.' But I fly every week and have pretty high status with American. They upgraded me to first class and gave someone else my (original) seat, and all my equipment got here."

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Conditions at YVRA in Hayden were wintry at midday Monday with a low cloud ceiling and blowing snow. But flights were operating with delays for de-icing on departure.

Airport crews outside and inside the terminal seemed relaxed and friendly as they worked with passengers in the middle of what is likely to have been the winter flight program’s busiest week. And they were pulling it off without an airport manager.

Newly hired airport manager Kevin Booth, who has extensive experience with military airfields, is expected to begin work Jan. 12. His new employees have been busy. The total number of passengers booked to fly into and out of YVRA, 23 miles west of Steamboat, from last Friday through Monday was 8,636, with 1,766 booked to fly into the Yampa Valley on Saturday alone.

The kind of weather skiers hope for has caused some recent travel delays at YVRA. Two of four United Express flights were listed as "canceled due to severe weather conditions" Sunday, and another was canceled due to weather Monday.

As of 4:40 p.m. Monday, a flight from Minneapolis, which was due in at 1 p.m., was estimated to finally arrive at 5:21 p.m.

United's flight to YVRA from Houston was diverted to Grand Junction because of weather on the ground in Hayden. When it took off again for the short hop to the Yampa Valley, weather caused it to be diverted to Denver. By late afternoon, it was expected to arrive at 7:20 p.m.

The most common reason for delayed flights arriving at YVRA this holiday period has been attributed to late departures at cities of origin caused by aircraft that were overdue arriving in cities like Seattle and Los Angeles.

One of the highlights of the past 10 days arrived Dec. 20 with the first-ever direct flight to YVRA from Washington Dulles International Airport on United Airlines. Both the Dec. 20 and Dec. 27 flights carried healthy load factors for a brand new route, according to Steamboat Ski Area Public Relations Director Mike Lane.

"The first two Dulles flights have been very well received, opening another key eastern airport to guests traveling to Steamboat-Ski Town USA," Lane wrote in an email. "Word will only continue to spread throughout the season during this first year of operation."

Lane, together with Steamboat Olympic freestyle skiing medalist Nelson Carmichael, greeted the Dec. 20 flight so Carmichael could pose with youngsters wearing his medal.

Despite the delays experienced by a significant number of flights into YVRA this holiday season, vacationing families arriving from the Southeastern states also reported smooth travels.

Matt Hildebrand, of Tampa, Florida, said his family's trip, with connections in Atlanta on Delta Airlines, was "perfect."

His 11-year-old daughter, Miranda, wasn't asking for much from her vacation: "I want to play in the snow," she said. Wish granted.

Eight-year-old son Trevor confessed that not only had he never skied before, he'd never watched any skiing on TV.

The Billy Naso family, of Florence, South Carolina, was determined to get to Steamboat.

"We've been here multiple times," Naso said, "but this is the first time in a few years we've flown into Steamboat because last time, our flight got canceled."

Just in case, they booked their trip out of YVRA on a Saturday to give them an extra day of travel to get home for work and school.

The Nasos caught a flight in Charlotte, North Carolina, to Dallas, finally boarding an American Airlines flight to YVRA. Naso's 21-year-old daughter, Caroline, and 18-year-old son, Will, enjoy skiing together but had differing opinions on the best run at Steamboat.

"I'm excited to go ski Christmas Tree Bowl," Caroline said. "It's really pretty."

Will said he will head directly for the tree skiing in the Closets. And that's a pretty good plan for a New Year's powder day.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1