With the snowpack levels across the state at or well above average, the state’s rafting and paddling community is bracing for a big season. A number of area outfitters have already started operating commercial tours.
“We’re definitely a couple weeks ahead of schedule,” said Christian “Campy” Campton, owner of Kodi Rafting in Frisco. “The water’s here now. We have a lot of snow up high — it’s going to continue to come down. We’re super excited to be out there this early with great flows. The only bummer about having this much water this early is not a lot of people are in town to enjoy it.”
This spring’s snowmelt has already opened the commercial rafting portion of the Upper Blue River — north of Silverthorne — which Kodi and other outfitters were unable to raft during each of the last two seasons because of lower water levels.
Longtime Summit County resident Matti Wade, owner of Ten Mile Creek Kayaks in Frisco, has also been taking advantage of early-season paddling opportunities. He’s already logged 23 days of paddling since his first outing of the season March 7.
“That’s the earliest I’ve ever done the Blue,” he said. “It’s awesome right now.”
For Wade, who missed most of last year’s paddling season with a torn bicep, it’s a welcome start to what he believes will be a great year.
“It’s going to be big for sure. I’m not waiting. I’m paddling as much as I can,” he said.
From a business standpoint, the word is out. Wade has already seen a spike in sales and rental reservations in advance of the upcoming Go Pro Games in Vail.
“I’m stoked; business has already started,” he said. “I had a great April. I think it’s only going to get better.”
He said some of his customers have said they’re coming back to paddling after taking the last few seasons off due to low water.
“The hype is so big I can’t put it into words,” he said. “Everyone knows that the water’s here and they’re excited for the season.”
While late-season snow in 2013 salvaged the summer paddling season last year, 2012 was a low-water year that cost the rafting industry substantial business.
Wade said this season is shaping up to be similar to 2011, which was the area’s last big snow year.
Kevin Foley, president of Performance Tours rafting company in Breckenridge, echoed Wade’s sentiment.
“We’re very optimistic about how the season is going to shake up,” he said. “Our advance reservations are tracking ahead of what they’ve been in the last few years.”
His company has permits for the Blue River, Clear Creek and the Arkansas River.
“With everything lining up way better than last year, I think the industry as a whole should have a great season,” he said.
The high snow levels this season also have the potential to make Upper Ten Mile Creek outside of Frisco raftable for an extended period of time. Last year, Campton’s Kodi Rafting operation was able to run that portion for only a brief window, as it relies heavily on snowmelt.
While substantial avalanche debris made its way into the creek this winter, Wade said that he and members of the sheriff’s department and Summit County Rescue Group were recently able to clear the large jams. He said it should be open for paddling with a little more snowmelt.
In other areas of the state, including the popular sections of the Arkansas and Colorado rivers, water levels already are high enough for rafting.
Wade said the Colorado has even reached its high-water flow.
“You never really see it this early like that,” he said.
Part of the reason for these high early-season flows is the state’s water management plan, which accounts for future snowmelt in area reservoirs.
Consistent flows are expected to continue throughout the season with a number of rivers likely to reach high-water levels, which they haven’t done in the last two summers.