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Big Water Boosts Flows For Whitewater Rafters

Marci Krivonen

This winter’s mega snowpack in the mountains is melting and filling reservoirs and rivers around the state. For whitewater rafting companies the big flows are good for thrills. But, some stretches are river are too full to float. Aspen Public Radio's Marci Krivonen reports.

Longtime rafting guide Bob Morse is giving his safety spiel to a small group preparing to board a bright yellow raft. For some, it’s their first time rafting.

"I’m excited. Today’s my 34th birthday," says rafter Ellie Burnett.

She's from Champaign, Illinois and decided to celebrate on the river, but admits the high flows make her a bit nervous.

"We were watching the water this morning. It’s definitely moving fast but they’re experienced and it looks like a ton of fun, so I’m excited. If I fall out, I can swim and I’ve got a vest (laughs)!"

This time of year the commercial rafting company Whitewater Rafting, LLC takes between 25 to 50 people out on the river each weekday. As the summer progresses, that number increases to up to 300 people in July. Normally, the Glenwood Springs company runs a stretch of the Colorado River through Glenwood Canyon but, because the river’s so swollen, owner Erik Larsson says they’ve changed their route.

Credit Marci Krivonen
Whitewater Rafting, LLC has been taking people down the Colorado River for 40 years. This year, they're slightly changing their route due to high water.

"We’re going from as far up as Carbondale all the way down to New Castle for full day trips and that’s quite a bit of mileage and way more than we usually do."

Because of high water, the company is choosing safer routes that are longer. Still, Larsson says the big water makes some people nervous.

"Some of our rafting guests are little scared about it, for sure. We’ve had a few calls asking whether its safe. And, if anything, right now our trips are a little more mild than they will be in July and August. The river’s bigger, the waves are bigger but it’s not very technical paddling."

The flows may cause rafter anxiety but overall, they’re a good thing for an industry that typically brings well over $100 million to the state each year. David Costlow is Executive Director of the Colorado River Outfitters Association.

"This year, I think many people anticipate the rafting will be great, and it will be. That’s because of all the snowpack, and we’ve had sufficient rains on the prairie to wet the soils, etc. so less gets absorbed into the ground so less gets absorbed into the ground and more comes down and through rivers," he says.

He says the heavy spring runoff happening now is earlier than normal, which is good because tourism season hasn’t fully ramped up.

"So, we’d like to take the highs off the river and get down to exciting flows and have those maybe by June 10th, so when the tourism season kicks in, we’re ready to go."

A slow, steady runoff is preferred by rafters because it ensures good flows late in the summer.

Back beside the Colorado River, raft guide Bob Morse wraps up his safety lesson and the group’s ready float the river.

The raft guiding company Whitewater Rafting LLC hopes to get rafters back on that stretch of the Colorado, known as “Shoshone,” soon, says owner Erik Larssen.

"We’re excited to get back. It’s better to be there. This is good too, but it’s very different. When the river’s six times the size of what it was this time last year, it just totally changes the river landscape."

On Wednesday, the Shoshone stretch was flowing 16,000 cubic feet per second. That's more than twice the average flow.

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