According to the Arkansas River Outfitters Association, snow depths throughout Colorado are up to 120 percent of average, promising that warming temperatures will soon buoy whitewater rafting destinations such as the Arkansas River, which hosts 40 percent of the state industry’s market share.
“A slightly higher than average snowpack means an excellent rafting season,” said Mark Hammer, owner of The Adventure Company in Buena Vista, CO. “We are already booking trips in anticipation of good water levels with minimum high-water closures. It’s really a perfect situation.”
Arkansas River outfitters started opening for the season in April.
“Snow levels will deliver a longer whitewater rafting season with ‘fun, crashing splashes,'” Hammer said, “for the experience visitors expect when rafting during their Colorado vacations.”
Colorado’s snowpack is nearly identical to last year, when the state’s whitewater rafting industry hosted a record 550,861 visitors, an 8.3 percent increase over the prior season, according to a report by the Colorado River Outfitters Association.
Nearly 224,000 of those visitors rafted on the Arkansas River, from above Buena Vista through Salida to Cañon City in south-central Colorado.
Outfitters rely on the state-issued Water Supply Outlook Report published in April to make determinations about the boating season.
This year’s report concluded that Colorado’s creeks and rivers would produce normal to above normal flows. January’s wild winter storms delivered more than double the average monthly precipitation across Colorado, and late March snows also boosted the snow depth, the report said.
“The industry as a whole couldn’t be happier about the snowpack we have right now. We are excited for another good year,” said Brandon Slate, owner of Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center, where kayaking and SUP instruction as well as raft trips started April 15.
The mountain snowpack above the Arkansas River was 112 percent of average on May 1.
The weather also contributed to healthy water storage in the state, which will bode well for late-season rafting in Colorado.
“Full reservoirs ensure water will be available in the Arkansas River if needed during the late season, allowing outfitters to offer the longest boating season in Colorado,” Arkansas River Outfitters Association Executive Director Bob Hamel said.
The Arkansas River Voluntary Flow Management Program is a cooperative agreement among water users that includes recreation in water management decisions. The plan can allocate water to maintain river levels well into August.
“This plan is unique to our valley by recognizing that recreation is part of our lifestyle, and that its economic impact is important,” Hamel said.
Whitewater rafting generated $179.8 million in spending among the state’s commercial users last year, according to the Colorado River Outfitters Association.
Photo courtesy Arkansas River Outfitters Association