Storm delays airline passengers headed home from Steamboat | SteamboatToday.com

Storm delays airline passengers headed home from Steamboat

A Delta Airlines Airbus-320 takes off for Atlanta from Yampa Valley Regional Airport and quickly disappears into the low cloud ceiling in this file photo. The Atlanta flight was one of those that diverted to another airport, then canceled before reaching the Yampa Valley March 4 due to poor visibility. A replacement aircraft arrived early March 5 to pick up its passengers.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — When a gusty snowstorm blew into Routt County from the west at midday Sunday, the Steamboat gondola had to stop running for almost a full day.

More inconvenienced than Sunday skiers, however, were about 1,000 airline passengers who had wrapped up their trips to Steamboat Springs and were headed home. And that doesn't include a portion of the 727 passengers scheduled to arrive that afternoon.

The Storm Peak Lab, at 10,530 feet atop Mount Werner,  recorded a couple of wind gusts greater than 46 miles per hour on Sunday.

Steamboat Ski Area spokesman Loryn Kasten said the opening of the gondola was delayed for First Tracks but did open to the public at 8:30 a.m., if only for an hour.

“The gondola closed due to wind at 9:30 a.m. and remained closed for the rest of the day,” Kasten said. “Storm Peak Express went on a wind hold at 10:15 a.m. and opened at 2:37 p.m.”

But it was less Sunday’s extreme winds that created a challenge for travelers but rather the limited visibility at Yampa Valley Regional Airport.

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"Visibility was below minimums for (arriving aircraft) most of the afternoon,” Airport Director Kevin Booth said. “That's what affected the flights." 

In all, 10 arriving flights were either canceled or diverted to other airports before being canceled, according to a flight update report provided by the ski area. Ironically, one of the few commercial jets to make it in late Sunday afternoon, a United Airlines flight from Dallas, spent the night on the apron with a mechanical issue.

A total of 1,311 passengers were booked on return flights Sunday, and some of them made it out early in the day.

Booth said the airport in Hayden, about 23 miles west of Steamboat Springs, never actually closed Sunday.

"All of the morning flights went fine, but right around noon, the cold front hit us," Booth said. "Shortly after that, snow brought minimums (for visibility) down. Really, nothing came in between 12:30 and 5:30 p.m."

However, some commercial flights were able to take off  in the storm, because minimum visibility standards aren't as strict in that case. And some general aviation traffic was able to continue to fly into and out of the airport, according to Booth.

The flight schedule was already beginning to recover by 10:44 a.m. Monday, when a specially dispatched Delta Airlines aircraft from Atlanta took off from the Yampa Valley with people who had missed Sunday's flight.

"That's typical," Booth said.

Depending on bookings for the day's (regularly scheduled) return flight. Based on available seats on the regularly scheduled flight for the day, the airline will often re-book stranded passengers on that flight.

For passengers who had to remain another night in the Yampa Valley, airport personnel assisted them in booking rooms (airlines are not responsible for expenses accrued due to weather delays), and shuttle buses were made available to take stranded passengers to Steamboat and Craig.

Booth said March 4 and the busy Monday of Presidents Day weekend were the two most weather-impacted days of the ski season thus far.

"On Presidents Day, we got kudos for the way we treated passengers," Booth said. "There were very few complaints. The passengers could look out to the runway and see what it was like."

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

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