Late spring snow and rain across the country has positioned rafting outfitters and paddlesports retailers well for a normal if not strong start to the 2013 commercial paddling season.
Colorados late-season snowfall boosted snowpack across the state and delayed the start of seasonal runoff. The Colorado River Outfitters Association (CROA) is reporting a normal, if slightly delayed, beginning to this years rafting season, which typically runs mid-May through mid-September.
According to CROAs 2012 Economic Impact Study, Colorados rafting industry had a more than $127 million economic impact on the states tourism industry in 2012; and that was during a down year, plagued by warm temperatures and devastating wildfires. In 2011, Colorados rafting industry generated an economic impact of more than $151 million.
Paddlesport retailers say cold weather and rain may have slowed the sale of camping and hiking equipment, but created optimism for the rafting season that essentially launched Memorial Day weekend nationwide. Consumer confidence also increased in both April and May. According to CROA, summer bookings for this year are up over last year. The outlook now is a lot different than it was six weeks ago, said CROA president Dave Costlow. Snow in May makes the phone start ringing, and well trade snow in May for water in August any day.
Its been slow starting but were optimistic for the rest of the season, said Confluence Kayaks & Ski owner Jonathan Kahn.
The most pain is that due to last years drought I wasnt able to stock the shop as completely as Id like to, which leads to poor sales, said Peter Van De Carr, owner, Backdoor Sports, Steamboat Springs, CO. The weather is always odd and if you try too hard to react youll either end up in a straight jacket or just broke.
In 2012, Colorado saw virtually no snow after March, and that situation was compounded by a warm spring and several devastating wildfires that garnered national attention, said Costlow. April and May snow added several feet to Colorado’s snowpack. And while snowpack is not the only variable in determining water flow levels across the state, it is a good indicator for a healthy rafting season. This puts outfitters on track to offer rafting throughout the typical rafting season, said Costlow. Costlow said outfitters this year again are putting an emphasis on family rafting adventures as a way to grow and sustain business.
Of course, many turned to SUP as well to sustain through the low water year; and like whitewater kayaking did 15 years ago, SUP sales and manufacturing are skyrocketing. With its lower barriers to entry, SUP has been a much-needed cash and customer infusion into the industry, but not necessarily a savior for river outfitters, who need sustained river flows and tourist spending for at least 90 days per year.
I have talked to a few outfitters and most outfitters had good to strong Memorial Day Weekend business, Costlow added. Outfitters are quite positive about the water outlook. The cooler temperatures slowing the melt, rain on the east slope and snow in the high country today just adds to the optimism.
The Southeast is recording an abnormally wet spring as well. According to the Nantahala Outdoor Centers Director of Operations, Cathy Kennedy, Bryson City, NC, The rain gives us wonderful water but our rafting guests want it to be good water and hot, so our spring numbers were a little down. Its rained every single Saturday for about six weeks. But our main season advance bookings look pretty strong (June 15 to August 15), slightly up over last year for the meat of the season. Rafting season in the Southeast on its primary seven commercial rivers begins around March 1.
In California, its been a dryer spring and rainfall totals are off despite near-normal snowpack. Southern California rivers such as the Kern are essentially dry now, with a commercial rafting season that lasted about a month. However, Northern California rivers, which are primarily dam controlled, are doing great. Reservoirs have water and about eight years ago the Placer County water authority agreed to a 50 year release giving the South Fork of the American River runnable levels six days per week through Labor Day.
According to Arnie Chandola, American Whitewater Expeditions, Coloma, CA, Business is up for us, weve got a pretty healthy increase in business. Gas prices arent astronomically high. Restaurants are doing well, and lodges are booked throughout the summer. Were all generally pretty upbeat, everyones got a relatively positive outlook for how things are moving.