The History of Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Airports
Apr 06, 2017 | Categories: Aviation History
Aspen is known as the Billionaire’s Retreat; palatial estates, opulent hotels and five-star restaurants are found around everywhere corner. As a playground for the rich and famous, every part of Aspen shines. Vail, known as “The Holy Grail,” Telluride, Breckenridge, and several other locations in the Rockies serve a similar clientele. The airports serving these areas need to impress as well. Though they may be on the smaller side, they are quite nice in their own right. In fact, current passengers would likely have difficulty envisioning the humble beginnings of various Colorado high-altitude aircraft facilities.
Aspen’s airport began in 1946 as a gravel landing strip with a small log cabin for the terminal. It was privately owned, but for public use. Pictures show the “baggage claim” as a snow pile outside the front doors. Passengers pulled luggage carts through the snow to load into their car. Ten years later, the deed was granted to Pitkin County and plans to expand the airport and put in a paved runway began. Aspen/Pitkin County (Sardy Field) Airport was opened in 1958 with one 60 by 5,200-foot runway. By 1969, the use of larger aircraft necessitated the widening of the runway. During the 1970’s a parcel of land was obtained to build a relatively small, but proper airport terminal. The 17,500 square foot facility was constructed in 1976. As time marched on, the runway was eventually widened and lengthened to its present size, 8006 feet long by 100 feet wide. The terminal was redeveloped in 1986 and expanded to the present size of 37,500 square feet. It is difficult to think of a place that regularly serves some of the world’s wealthiest individuals beginning with just a simply log cabin and a gravel runway.
Eagle County Regional Airport lies between the towns of Eagle and Gypsum, Colorado and serves resort areas such as Vail. This airport too had humble beginnings. In fact, the original purpose of the runway construction was simply to have an emergency landing strip for aircraft flying from Denver to Los Angeles in the 1930s. An actual airport was built and opened on September 14, 1947. It serviced a small number of commercial passengers even as recently as 1989, when 277 were recorded to come through the airport. In 1996, a 36,000 square foot passenger terminal opened and the airport recorded a 73% increase in traffic that year. In order to accommodate the ever-growing crowds, a 30,000 square foot expansion was completed in 2001. In 2009, an extension of the runway was completed increasing the length to 9,000 feet, thereby allowing larger aircraft to land. In 2013, 167,490 commercial passengers visited Eagle County Regional Airport. The airport is now a major contributor to the local economy and one of the busiest airports in Colorado.