Early holiday skiers flying into Steamboat ahead of snowstorm | CraigDailyPress.com

Early holiday skiers flying into Steamboat ahead of snowstorm

Tom Ross

An American Airlines flight from Chicago arrives Thursday at Yampa Valley Regional Airport. It was the first flight to arrive as part of the winter air program.

— More than 1,200 passengers arrived at Yampa Valley Regional Airport on Thursday and Friday, signaling the beginning of the holiday resort season with direct flights arriving from Dallas, Houston, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Steamboat Central Reservations reported that Thursday's flights were 91 percent full in aggregate with 665 passengers expected to arrive. Friday's flights were expected to deliver another 596 passengers.

Saturday's flight schedule will see the first direct flights of the year from Atlanta on a 150-passenger Delta Air Lines Airbus 320, as well as first flights of the season from Minneapolis and Newark. Inaugural flights from San Francisco and Washington Dulles are also due in Saturday, the latter two representing new markets flying to YVRA.

The lodging barometer released by the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association on Wednesday was projecting 8,914 visitors would spend the night in Steamboat on Saturday. Those numbers typically grow between Wednesday and Saturday.

Already, the Chamber's look ahead at Christmas weekend anticipates 14,570 people will be in town the night of Saturday, Dec. 27, when lodging occupancy will be in the 90th percentile.

Vacationing skiers who stay through the weekend should enjoy a good dose of powder beginning Sunday, with the storm intensifying Monday. The National Weather Service in Grand Junction updated its forecast at 2:30 p.m. Friday and predicted that the Park Range, which includes Steamboat Ski Area, should see more than a foot of snow falling Sunday night into the daylight hours Monday.

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As of Friday morning, the Weather Service felt there was a strong chance that northwest-facing slopes in the Park Range east of Steamboat could see as much as 2 feet of snow by Monday, but the meteorologists downsized the forecast later Friday while keeping a winter storm watch in place through Monday afternoon.

The Weather Service cautions motorists to expect the heaviest snow to fall late Sunday afternoon and Sunday night with west winds of 10 to 15 miles per hour and gusts up to 25 miles per hour.

Steamboat-based meteorologist Michael Weissbluth, of the SnowAlarm blog, said a long, narrow stretch of concentrated moisture, sometimes referred to as an atmospheric river, is headed in Steamboat's direction and could begin producing precipitation by Saturday night.

"Even though we will be in strong and moist northwest flow, current model trends have the atmosphere warming during the day Sunday, with very windy conditions," Weissbluth said in an email. "My experience is that our forecast becomes more uncertain, and generally leans pessimistic under a warming atmosphere."

Still, Weissbluth expects Steamboat to get wind and snow Sunday and Monday.

"At this point, I would guess maybe an inch or two by the Sunday morning report, with 5-10 (inches) reported Monday morning," he said. "Cooling increases later Monday, decreasing the density of the snow and increasing accumulations, possibly leading to another 4-8 (inches) by Tuesday morning."

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