Airport operations, RTA buses pick up their winter pace – The Crested Butte News
Increased attendance and marketing focus on big snow
[ By Katherine Nettles ]
A big December snowstorm turned into a big January marketing campaign for Gunnison County tourism, and it looks like the economy is doing well at both ends of the valley this winter despite setbacks in staff, COVID cases and snow to get around. According to multiple updates from the RTA Board of Directors at their meeting on Friday January 7th, demand from skiers is strong, and while renovations to the Gunnison Crested Butte (GUC) airport terminal continue all in winter, several functional milestones have been reached to facilitate air travel; airport ridership is nearing full recovery from pre-2020 levels and spring schedules are already in the books.
“We have entered this week into what is usually the biggest booking week of the year, and the momentum will last for a few weeks,” said John Norton, executive director of the Tourism and Prosperity Partnership (TAPP). “We also launched a big social media campaign focused on the 99-inch snowstorm and the fact that the hills opened up.”
Norton said the marketing didn’t mention the restricted access to steep rides that has mostly been a reality this winter, and said his team assumed the ski area would get staff for those lifts “eventually.”
“We’re focusing on air markets in particular, those air markets that we’ve partnered with Vail on that are likely to go through Denver,” Norton said. He noted Denver’s charges aren’t keeping pace with Houston and Dallas. “So we’re not ignoring Texas, but we’re trying to get United people through Denver.”
Norton also reported that demand from skiers is strong. Lodging projections for January, February and March all show an increase in occupancy.
“I’m happy to say that chalets across the valley are feeling confident enough to raise prices about 15% from last ski season. So we have a healthy demand. And we expect to see it all ski season,” Norton said.
He said he was hearing reports that December retail and lodging appeared to be at an all-time high in both the Valley and the Valley.
The airport is being refined
GUC airport manager Rick Lamport said the refurbishment of the terminal is going well given the delays in 2021. “We’ve been able to get off to a successful start,” he said of the season skiing 2021/2022. “The major impact of the demonstration is now complete and the project is in the reconstruction phase. The elevator is now fully functioning, the new control station is now fully open. The ground services equipment building is complete, and fencing, security and bathrooms are all in place.” For the most part we are able to operate and accommodate the level of ski season flights that we have, and that was the goal main for December,” Lamport said. Construction crews are now taking advantage of weather breaks as much as possible.
Meanwhile, Lamport credited his staff for handling a lot of extra jobs lately, as airline crews have been fewer and various extra steps with the refurbishment of the terminal have required extra hands. Lamport said his staff handled airline work, baggage, operated the elevator throughout the trial period until it reached full operating certificate and maintained a presence in the stairwells for each flight. “But it’s great. It’s our airport, it’s our community, and the more we invest in it, the more we get out of it,” he said.
“I flew back and forth a couple of times and it was great,” commented RTA Executive Director Scott Truex. He also said Lamport staff made the process fun for people with luggage jokes and a general spirit that travelers really appreciate.
“Yeah, we try to make the most of things and make them nice for people,” Lamport said. “They have fun.”
Kudos to the buses
RTA bus ridership has increased significantly over last year and is catching up to pre-pandemic numbers. Truex said around December 20, they switched mostly to RTA buses instead of vans, and there were far fewer complaints of people being left behind or feeling overcrowded. “We’ve had a few times since then that we’ve used vans, and [staff] posted the routes on the app, so people paying attention can be aware and make different plans if they want,” he said. “We used up to 30-40% with vans before that.”
Truex said one of the biggest winter storms he has ever seen in the area presented some challenges, but overall the buses kept going and Alpine Express in particular did a great job. He said trailing axle lifts were finally on the way and would soon be fitted to buses to improve traction in snowy or icy conditions.
“It’s something we’ve been trying to get for over a year…and it should really help our buses get up the hill,” between Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte.
Spring schedules are set
Airline consultants Kent Myers and Bill Tomcich have updated that spring schedules come just after the ski season and show a 34% increase in April capacity (seats available) compared to last year with two daily 70-seat flights compared to two 50-seat flights last year. flights. GUC also shows the largest year-over-year increase in regional markets.
New technologies such as modern aircraft for SkyWest will help GUC fill the void it has lagged in for many years, Tomcich said. Aging CRJ700 aircraft have been limited, with several recently undergoing heavy maintenance to resume rotation. It also challenged Aspen, Gunnison and a small airport in California over the holidays. A CRJ700 was out of service for six days and caused up to about three dozen canceled and delayed flights in multiple markets, Tomcich said. “It also impacted a flight or two at Gunnison,” he said.
From Nov. 1 to Dec. 16, Tomcich said SkyWest canceled 20 total flights at GUC, but American Airlines flew 100% of its scheduled flights. “Not just now, but full,” he said.
“SkyWest sees GUC as a priority market, and they’re looking at new technologies that could really do a lot for us,” he added.
Tomcich said the current spring schedules call for two daily flights from March 27 to May 5, then a brief lull with one daily flight from May 6 to June 2 before the summer schedules take effect from March 3. June with three daily flights from Denver plus two weekly flights from Houston. “Preliminary May and summer schedules are still subject to change as we get closer,” he said.
“I think we’re in pretty good shape with the summer flights right now, especially with last year’s performance,” Myers concluded.