Jackie Shapiro, who was visiting Steamboat Springs from Denver, floats down the Yampa River late Tuesday afternoon on a tube. The Yampa River might look inviting for tubing, but local officials urge people who are tempted to purchase their own tubes and float the river while it remains above 1,000 cubic feet per second this weekend should take safety precautions: life vests are a must. Commercial tubing will not open until the river falls to or below 700 cfs.

Photo by John F. Russell

Jackie Shapiro, who was visiting Steamboat Springs from Denver, floats down the Yampa River late Tuesday afternoon on a tube. The Yampa River might look inviting for tubing, but local officials urge people who are tempted to purchase their own tubes and float the river while it remains above 1,000 cubic feet per second this weekend should take safety precautions: life vests are a must. Commercial tubing will not open until the river falls to or below 700 cfs.

Yampa River flow double commercial tubing level, but Tuesday could be the day

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— It’s still rafting season on the town stretch of the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs, but tubing season might be just a few days away.

The river was flowing at 1,430 cubic feet per second where it passed beneath the Fifth Street Bridge on Thursday morning. That’s double the threshold of 700 cfs when commercial tubing begins here. However, the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center projects the river will be in tubing range as soon as Tuesday.

The uncharacteristic heat June 8 to 10, when the temperature flirted with 90 degrees, caused the river to spike to 2,500 cfs June 9. And it stayed above 2,000 cfs through Wednesday, a source of joy for the local kayak fleet.

The Forecast Center sees the diurnal cycle of peaks and lows brought on by the snowmelt pattern ending Saturday. The river is expected to fall into a gradual but steady decline that could put it below 500 cfs by June 23.

After two consecutive summers when commercial tubing was put on hold, first by persistent high flows in 2011 and low flows at the beginning of July 2012, tubing operator John Kole, of One Stop Ski Shop, said Thursday that it would be welcome news if he could begin renting tubes by next week.

"I'd be real excited," Kole said. "It looks like we might at least get July out of this summer."

Kole's permit with the city of Steamboat Springs allows him to rent about 30 tubes on weekdays and 60 on weekends. The going rate for tube rentals in Steamboat, including a shuttle pickup, is about $18.

Local officials urge people who are tempted to purchase their own tubes and float the Yampa while the river remains above 1,000 cfs this weekend should take safety precautions: personal flotation devices or life vests are a must. Among the dangers is standing up in the swift current and finding one’s foot jammed beneath a rock on the riverbed. It’s a potentially lethal situation.

The river’s runoff patterns have varied tremendously during the past two seasons, often confounding the commercial tubing operators who put hundreds of tubers on the river daily during the heart of the summer tourism season.

Record snowpack in 2011 produced an unusually long snowmelt period, and commercial tubing didn’t get underway until July 26, almost too late to catch the season for family vacations. It was a different story in 2012, when the river had all but petered out by July 1. Supplemental flows from Stagecoach Reservoir, thanks to a lease obtained by the Colorado Water Trust, and from the Lake Catamount Homeowners Association restored river flows and tubing later in July 2012.

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

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