Rafting is good -- for now

Early runoff could mean short season for whitewater businesses

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— Early spring runoff is creating an excellent month for rafting, but it could mean a short season.

The fun rapids are providing memorable experiences for rafters -- what few are around to enjoy them, said Kent Vertrees, owner of rafting company Buggywhips at Blue Sky West.

"The hardest part about it is there's no one in town," Vertrees said. "There's not that many people looking to go. We did more trips in April this year than we've ever had. We were rafting when people were still skiing."

Unseasonably warm temperatures have put runoff about three weeks ahead of schedule, which is not a good thing because the majority of tourists don't usually begin their treks to Steamboat until July.

"When people come to Steamboat in July, they say, 'Where's all the white water?' We just say, 'Well, it was here,'" Vertrees said.

Blue Sky West runs four rivers: the Yampa, North Platte, Colorado and Eagle. The Yampa, however, is running so fast down stream that Blue Sky won't take rafters down it. As the Yampa River reaches Cross Mountain Canyon, in western Moffat County, it is flowing at more than 6,000 cubic feet per second.

With the Yampa River flowing at about 1,500 cfs, Blue Sky West is keeping its rafting tours in Steamboat Springs and the Hayden Valley.

Rafting operators elsewhere in the state have mixed feelings about the early runoff.

"From a business standpoint, we would like to see more water in July, when the most people are here," said Ben Sack, a guide with Echo Canyon River Expeditions in Cañon City. "From that aspect, it is kind of a negative thing. We just do the best we can with the folks that want to come out early and raft in late May or early June. After that, we'll be tapering down on the other end of the bell curve."

However, Kevin Schneider, owner of Rock Garden Rafting in Glenwood Springs, is confident about this summer's rafting.

He said even though early runoff generally is not good for hard-core "adrenaline junkies," it's not so bad for families, which are his company's chief clientele.

"Sometimes big water scares mom," Schneider said. "People want hot weather, so I think we're going to have a good summer, and as a business owner, I'm pretty excited."

In Steamboat, Vertrees already is looking past rafting season to tubing season.

"We typically start tubing in July, but the way things are looking, we'll be tubing in June," Vertrees said. But, an early start there also means an early stop.

Vertrees was happy to see snow falling Thursday. He keeps close track of snowpack and precipitation levels.

"Snow extends our season," Vertrees said. "Every little bit helps."


-- To reach Nick Foster call 871-4204

or e-mail nfoster@steamboatpilot.com

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