Steamboat Springs Airport sees busiest year during COVID-19 |

Steamboat Springs Airport sees busiest year during COVID-19

An airplane lands along Bob Adams Field at Steamboat Springs Airport on Friday morning. (Photo by John F. Russell)

While many chose not to travel by airplane during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the Steamboat Springs Airport saw 2,000 more operations in 2020 than it did in 2019.

Airport Manager Stacie Fain attributed the increase in flights and fuel sales to more people escaping city life for the mountains and using private planes to do so, as Steamboat’s airport doesn’t accommodate commercial flights, and most flying into the area utilize the Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden.

“The people who are traveling want to go to places. They want to go to the mountains, and they want to go to the beach,” Fain said. “Right now you can barely buy a used private airplane, and they just aren’t available.”

Fain said the airport frequently sees visitors from the Front Range and other Western states flying in for a day or a weekend, with some flying in for just a few hours. Pilots flying into the airport are able to treat it like a car would a parking lot: They are able to use it any time without making a reservation and can come and go as they please.

“People are coming in, they’re spending money in our town, they’re stimulating our economy and they’re enjoying Steamboat,” Fain said. “Sometimes we have people just come for breakfast and then head back to Boulder.”

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While people traveling by private plane was one driving factor, Fain said the airport also saw heavier traffic because of the busy wildfire season.

While the city owns and operates the airport, an agreement with the federal government allows the U.S. Forest Service to station and fly planes out of the airport.

David Ladrich, helicopter base manager, said the Forest Service is often dispatched to fires in remote parts of the wilderness, and the closest airport is sometimes located hours away.

A helicopter used to fight wildland fires takes off from Steamboat Springs Airport Friday morning, as another sits on the tarmac with its crew on standby to see if they will be needed to help with any of a number of fires burning in the area. The helicopter crews have been stationed at the airport since June ready to go where they may be needed at a moment’s notice. (Photo courtesy of Mike Lane)

“This is an ideal airport with security and a tarmac,” Ladrich said.

While the Forest Service is no longer actively dropping water and fire retardant over the Muddy Slide Fire, Ladrich said a flight from the airport to the fire was about 15 minutes. A flight to the Morgan Creek Fire in North Routt County is between 10 and 12 minutes, Ladrich added.

“When we have a fire in such a remote area, it can be hard to get a good big picture so we put crews in a helicopter, take them up and give them a good bird’s eye view of what it looks like and what’s going on,” Ladrich said. “If someone were to get hurt, we want to be able to get someone up there within moments notice to go help them.”

The airport also hosts a Classic Air Medical base, which serves Routt County Search and Rescue, UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center and law enforcement agencies in the county.

Brock Jenkins, a paramedic on the Classic Air Medical base, said their crew has also seen a busier season, particularly with search and rescue missions, as more visitors come to town and explore the outdoors, often without proper directions or resources.

“We find ourselves looking for where we need to go sometimes because of the remote wilderness,” said Cory Manning, pilot with Classic Air Medical. “This is probably the most technical airport to fly out of because you just don’t have a lot of outs because you’re surrounded by mountains.”

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