Paddlers ring in the new year on the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon |

Paddlers ring in the new year on the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon

Kayakers carry their boats out of the Colorado River on Jan. 1, 2023. A group of about 30 people got together to paddle the frigid waters in an annual New Year's Day tradition.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

The icy water of Glenwood Canyon didn’t prevent Joe Elsen from completing a practice roll on Sunday before embarking on a journey through Glenwood Canyon in his kayak.

Elsen, a former CDOT engineer who is now retired, enjoyed a day on the water with his son, Jimmy, carrying on a New Year’s Day tradition in Glenwood Canyon that dates back decades.

It’s a local version of the Polar Bear Club, only the goal for many is not to get too wet. But Sunday was milder than Elsen and others have seen in years past, with temperatures in the 30s, and a few more practice rolls were performed.

Ken Hoeve approaches the Shoshone rapids in Glenwood Canyon on New Year’s Day 2023. Hoeve participated in an annual tradition on that section of the Colorado River, in which boaters ring in the new year by taking to the frigid waters, which have a fast enough current to prevent freezing through the winter months.
Ken Hoeve/Courtesy photo

Elsen shared a memory of one of the first times he had seen a stand-up paddle boarder take to a section of river, it was local Ken Hoeve. That year was much colder, and when Elsen saw ice form at the top of Hoeve’s board, impeding his path, he momentary wondered how Hoeve would navigate the ice.

“He started jumping up and down on his board and it broke off the ice perfectly,” Elsen said.

Hoeve said meeting up with people like Elsen is what makes the event such a fun tradition.

“These are people who love Glenwood Canyon and the Colorado River,” Hoeve said.

From left is Jimmy Elsen, Sylvia Thurmond, Max Ryan, Barry Chamberlain and Joe Elsen in Glenwood Canyon on Sunday. Boaters took to the Colorado River in an annual New Year’s Day tradition.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

Barry Chamberlain paddled with Elsen on Sunday, and checked January 2023 off his list in his goal to enjoy at least one day of paddling per month. He said in the wintertime, the Shoshone section of Glenwood Canyon is a reliable source of whitewater.

“It runs all year long,” he said.

Heather Gard showed up to help with support, ushering boaters back and forth between the put-out and take-in areas. But when her brother, Travis Tinker, asked her to join on his raft with oar-rig, she agreed to ride along.

“I did not swim, but I got wet from the splashing,” she said.

Heather’s daughter, Leah Gard, joined in her kayak.

Ed Eggers, left, waves to kayakers from the banks of the Colorado River on Sunday.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

Todd Wicklund, who has been floating Shoshone since the 1970s, joined with his son, Karl. They were cheered on from the sidelines by Ed and Vicki Eggers of Edwards.

Awaiting participants at the finish line was a LavaBox portable campfire courtesy of Sylvia Thurmond. The open fire was a welcome sight to the paddlers, which included her husband, Josh Thurmond.

When asked to confirm if he is the person who bears his likeness in the promo for Shark Tank season 14, Thurmond said you’ll have to tune in and find out.

“You might just see a couple of companies you recognize on the show this year,” he said.

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