Adventure seekers experience rapids on the Cache la Poudre River in Northern Colorado courtesy of A Wanderlust Adventure, based in Laporte. River enthusiasts expect an exceptional season of rafting, especially if the snow melts slowly and extends the season. Courtesy Wanderlust Adventure

River rafters expect amazing season

In mid-May, Bob Klein was watching snow fall on opening week for the rafting season on the Cache la Poudre River. He wasn’t disappointed at all.

“Yeah, it’s going to be an amazing summer,” said the manager for A WanderlustAdventure in Laporte. “We’re going to have such a good snowpack, and this year it looks like the peak runoff is going to hold on a little later.

“We were supposed to start this weekend, but the river is still a little low,” said Klein, now guiding the Poudre for his 27th season. “But we would rather be doing this right now, as the snowpack is still building. That’s just making things that much better for later on in July or August.”

Across the state the tremendous snowpack has rafting companies racking up the reservations and licking their lips at the upcoming season. But it isn’t just the amount of runoff available that makes for a great rafting year: If the runoff is slower, then the rafting companies will actually lose fewer days during the peak on the more adventurous routes and will, of course, be able to raft the river later in the summer.

“I don’t expect it will be extremely high flows,” Klein said. “But all the companies have alternate trips. If we have to cancel our advanced trips we do a (lower) section called the filter plant.”

While the Poudre may be northeastern Colorado’s most accessible rafting location, conditions are even better around the state, so this may be the best year in a while to be planning a family trip of a few days. The snowpack in the South Platte (which includes the Poudre) was at 126 percent halfway through April; Southwestern Colorado was at 220 percent; the Arkansas, 165 percent; the Colorado, 154 percent; and the Gunnison, 206 percent.

Water of this magnitude has a compounded effect, said David Costlow, president of the Colorado River Outfitters Association.

“Water providers can recharge reservoirs. Farmers on the prairie don’t need to call for their water rights,” Costlow said. “Slow and steady on the warm-up will mean a very long season.”

In Southwestern Colorado, this year’s snowpack must seem God sent to outfitters, who suffered a horrific 2017. The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River basins had 4,160 percent more snowpack this year as of mid-April.

Despite some devastating snow years, Costlow said he hasn’t seen a lot of outfitters give up the ship in Southwestern Colorado. This year’s exceptional snowpack is expected to create a banner year for those outfitters who have hung on during some tough times, including the 2015 Gold King mine spill on the Animas.

“Surely I would hope so but it’s always hard to predict,” said Costlow, a former outfitter himself. “Things can happen. Fire can change everything. Gas prices could go up to $5.”

“But all indications are good, weather wise, and the economy is churning,” said Costlow, noting that outfitters have been telling him that bookings are up this year.

Commercial user days on Colorado rivers fell about 10 percent last year, but that was following a record-setting 575,555 user days in 2017, according to information from the association. The overall economic impact of river operations, which also includes activities such as guided fishing floats, was estimated at $192 million that year.

“When you are in the adventure business and you depend on nature, you learn to tuck your money away,” Costlow said.

At AVA (formerly Arkansas Valley Adventures), CEO Alison Mathes said her only worry about this year is that people from out of state might be put off by the reports of big waters. Because her 100-seasonal-employee company guides nine rivers, including nearby Clear Creek, she thought her company had more built-in flexibility for putting people on appropriate routes.

“Last year was tough certainly on Clear Creek,” she said, noting the season was over in July. “On good years it lasts until August, but honestly I think we might get to the beginning of September this year.”

Mathes said last year’s lack of water made finding suitable routes for everyone more of a challenge than it will be this year, with water, water everywhere. “I think we did a fabulous job working with our guests. And if there isn’t a suitable trip, there’s always zip lining or rock climbing, that we also offer.”

Costlow also said high waters won’t translate to danger for the lesser skilled among us.

“Most of the outfitters over the years have figured out that if a rapid is a little too gnarly, they’ll keep it within its rating,” he said. “When the Poudre is high they are way down the river; when it’s lower they move up the river.”

Looking for the perfect river raft this summer? Obviously the Poudre and Clear Creek are prime local choices. Alison Mathes said a three-day float on the upper Colorado comes to mind. Costlow recommended the Taylor River in the Gunnison drainage, which combines great water with better scenery, he said.

In mid-May, Bob Klein was watching snow fall on opening week for the rafting season on the Cache la Poudre River. He wasn’t disappointed at all.

“Yeah, it’s going to be an amazing summer,” said the manager for A WanderlustAdventure in Laporte. “We’re going to have such a good snowpack, and this year it looks like the peak runoff is going to hold on a little later.

“We were supposed to start this weekend, but the river is still a little low,” said Klein, now guiding the Poudre for his 27th season. “But we would rather be doing this right now, as the snowpack is still building. That’s just making things that much better for later on in July or August.”

Across the state the tremendous snowpack has rafting companies racking up the reservations and licking their lips at the upcoming season. But it isn’t just the amount of runoff available that makes for a great rafting year: If the runoff is slower, then the rafting companies will actually lose fewer days during the peak on the more adventurous routes and will, of course, be able to raft the river later in the summer.

“I don’t expect it will be extremely high flows,” Klein said. “But all the companies have alternate trips. If we have to cancel our advanced trips we do a (lower) section called the filter plant.”

While the Poudre may be northeastern Colorado’s most accessible rafting location, conditions are…