Vail planes and buses were busy this weekend |

Vail planes and buses were busy this weekend

Daily file photoVail's parking structures filled up before 10 a.m. both last Saturday and the same Saturday last year. Cars " presumably with skiers in them " have been packing the frontage roads and overflow parking lots lately.

VAIL VALLEYY, Colorado ” A combination of big snow, bargain airfares and deal-seeking skiers put almost as many skiers through Eagle County Regional Airport in December of 2008 as the year before.

Passenger numbers were down about 10 percent for December of 2008 from 2007. Given the state of the national economy, that’s not too bad, said airport operations manager Chris Anderson.

“I know we’re down less than other airports,” Anderson said.

The surprise this year is the number of locals using the airport ” a number estimated by the availability of airport parking.

“We added 112 spaces last summer,” Anderson said. “Over Christmas we ended up using all our parking, and we have to park another 113 cars inside the airfield.”

That, Anderson said, is almost surely a byproduct of some great airfares available now. Round-trip, nonstop flights from Eagle County to New York City, Los Angeles and Minneapolis are all available for around $250 right now, and a smart Internet shopper can get a round-trip ticket to Jackson Hole for $150.

“I think a lot of locals are using those fares in reverse,” said Mark Cervantes of “I just booked a quick weekend in San Diego.”

While locals are parking at the airport, a lot of tourists flying in are using the county’s ECO bus system. A bus ride to Vail is $3 per person, about the cheapest way to get up-valley short of hitchhiking.

Transit system manager Harry Taylor said his agency hasn’t yet run numbers specific to the airport, but said there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that indicates more tourists are taking the bus.

“We’ve had a lot more e-mail inquiries about routes and times,” Taylor said.

Like airfares, that could be an indication of people looking, and waiting, for deals.

“We’re getting people booking two or three weeks out,” Cervantes said. “That’s very unusual.” is barely more than a year old, and Cervantes said the company is doing better now than it was a year ago. But the long-range bookings dropped just as hard for that lodging-booking company as others.

“In October of 2007, we’d be getting 30, 40 or 50 leads a day,” he said. “Last October, we’d get maybe five or 10 a day. It stayed that way until maybe Nov. 15, and then the last-minute bookings started.

“People are saying, ‘We need a great deal,'” Cervantes added. “They’re saying ‘We need a platinum condo over Presidents Day weekend for $300 a night,’ and they’re playing it real close to their arrival date to get it.”

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