Rafting still prospers over tubing on Yampa River through Steamboat

Snow on Buffalo Pass still 39 inches; Yampa starting to drop

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— Federal hydrologists are predicting that the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs finally will begin to drop steadily late this week, marking the end of the most protracted spring runoff on the books.

The river is projected to be safe for adult tubing at 660 cubic feet per second by July 23, about 20 days later than most summers.

That wasn’t the news that tubing outfitter Peter Van De Carr, of Backdoor Sports, wanted to hear.

“This is my biggest weekend coming up, and I won’t do anything,” Van De Carr said.

With the biggest crowds of the summer in Steamboat Springs this weekend for the Steamboat Mountain Soccer Tournament, Van De Carr’s business typically would put all 600 of its allotted weekend tube trips on the river at $17 per tuber.

Commercial tubing businesses, which are allotted a finite number of trips under a city permit, typically get under way in time for the Fourth of July or perhaps a few days later. But flows on the town stretch of the Yampa, at 2,300 cfs, still aren’t safe for anything but whitewater craft.

Backdoor Sports would have outfitted as many as 225 floaters during the week and another 400 on Friday, with some of them renting accessories such as rubber river shoes.

Other local river outfitters who have fewer tubing permits are making up for it in this season of abundant water with guided whitewater rafting.

“Today, we have 117 people on raft trips on the Colorado River (75 miles south of Steamboat) from Pumphouse to Rancho del Rio,” said John Duty, of Bucking Rainbow Outfitters. “We’re running four or five different rivers, some of them three times a day. It’s a pretty special deal. Usually, we’re already off everything but the Colorado and Cross Mountain Canyon (on the Yampa in Moffat County) by now. But we’re running the Elk three times a day, and it’s great right now.”

Duty is allowed 225 tube permits on weekends, but he isn’t really missing them this week. His business is employing 30 part-time and full-time river guides this month.

A half-day float on the Colorado without transportation costs $71 for adults and $55 for youngsters, but most people are opting for a full-day float, which includes the 90-minute van ride to the river, for $93 and $75. At current river levels, the shorter trip just doesn’t last long enough, Duty said.

A stretch of the North Platte River near the Wyoming border is especially wild, Duty said.

“Northgate (Canyon) was at 6,500 cfs Monday,” he said. “That thing is incredible right now.”

The Yampa where it flows through downtown Steamboat bounced above 4,300 cfs on Friday in the wake of heavy rainfall. The rain flushed some of the remaining snowpack in the mountains and sent it down tributary streams such as Walton and Fish creeks. The average streamflow in the Yampa this time of years is 359 cfs. And still, Nick Benke, of the U.S. Forest Service, measured the snow above 10,000 feet on Buffalo Pass at 39 inches Tuesday.

Like Duty, Van De Carr is offering whitewater raft trips this month, but his operation is weighted toward tubing, which has always been a better bet once the busiest weeks of the summer arrive in mid-July.

He’s among the civic-minded businesspeople in Steamboat and has promoted the Friends of the Yampa campaign while supporting the Free Summer Concert Series with a cash donation. And he’s taking the behavior of the untamed Yampa philosophically.

“The number of people tubing drops drastically in August,” Van De Carr said. “But that’s the river business. You go from drought to flood.”

— To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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