Signs pointing toward good whitewater season
EAGLE COUNTY — With snowpack at about 100 percent of the 30-year average, we could be looking at a top-notch whitewater season this spring and summer.
Greg Kelchner with Timberline Tours said for most people looking to get out and enjoy some whitewater rafting, average or even a bit below average snowpack is ideal.
“Right now, the No. 1 thing is what happens with how the melt proceeds,” he said. “That’s unpredictable, but it looks like right now we’re going to continue to accumulate snow pack, or continue to accumulate moisture and balance off everything that’s melting.”
Unseasonably warm temperatures during the next few weeks could throw that off a little, but so far that’s not looking likely, said Ellen Heffernan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
“The long-range forecast is showing a higher possibility of below average temperatures and above average precipitation,” she said. “And we do have a series of storms on the way, one for this weekend, another for Tuesday and another couple storms in the longer duration. That will make the runoff more prolonged, because we’ll continue to deposit snow in the higher elevations, and it will be cooler, which will slow the melting in the mid elevations.”
THE DUST FACTOR
Another interesting factor that Kelchner has observed in his more than 40 years studying spring runoff in Eagle County is the dust factor.
“A big dirt storm out in Utah or Northern Arizona can deposit a lot of dust onto the snowpack in our area,” Kelchner said. “The darker layer of dust will absorb more sunlight, accelerating the melt. If we have more than one of those events they will add up like a layer cake.”
That hasn’t been the case so far this year. El Nino conditions on the Pacific have created wetter conditions in Utah and Arizona this spring, Heffernan said, so that when the winds start blowing, the dust isn’t as quick to move.
“A lot of the storms we have had have taken a southerly track, so they go across Northern Arizona and the Four Corners and have brought precipitation down to those areas,” Heffernan said. “Then, of course, you don’t get the dust, because it’s wetter.”
MIDDLE OF MAY
The first local area to open up for whitewater rafting will be the Upper Colorado River, passing through Rancho Del Rio and State Bridge in Eagle County. Kelchner said he expects those areas to start getting good in the next few weeks.
“Those are fun, high flows, for beginner and intermediate level trips,” he said.
After that, the lower Eagle River will be a good Class III section of whitewater.
“That generally gets good — high enough to run without banging on the rocks — around the middle of May,” Kelchner said.
Darryl Bangert with Sage Outdoor Adventures said Gore Creek through Vail will be good this season, as well.
“We should be running trips down the Gore by the end of May this year,” he said.
Also taking place on Gore Creek starting May 10 will be the town of Vail’s annual Whitewater Race Series, featuring two-person rafting competitions with rafts provided by Lakota Guides, stand-up paddleboard competitions and kayak races.
“Participants are already gearing up for the spring season and the series is a great way for whitewater enthusiasts to get started and prepare for upcoming whitewater festivals,” said race director Rob Crawford. “The Vail Whitewater Park is a prime location for spectators, so I encourage everyone to spread the word about these exciting events.”
Now in its fourth year, Whitewater Race Series events will take place from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays from May 10 to June 7.