Good local snowpack bodes well for recreation
Normal is good
Here’s a look at the snow water equivalent numbers from the upper valley’s three major snow measurement sites, and how they compare to the 30-year median measurements.
• Vail Mountain: Peaked May 1 at 21.3 inches, 94 percent of normal.
• Copper Mountain (near Vail Pass): Peaked May 3 at 17.5 inches, 114 percent of normal.
• Fremont Pass: Peaked May 1 at 19.7 inches, 106 percent of normal.
Source: Natural Resources Conservation Service
EAGLE COUNTY — Normal is good, particularly when it comes to snowfall and streamflow. Right now, it looks like abundant snow in the mountains will provide a good season of rafting, fishing and water supply from Gore Creek and the upper Eagle River.
The latest snowpack numbers from the federal National Resources Conservation Service show the three sites that most affect Vail and the upper valley are about as close to average as nature can get. Add in a cool, relatively wet April and first third of May and the vast majority of that snow is still on the mountains. That means the equivalent of our reservoir is full.
That’s good news for water supplies, of course.
Diane Johnson, the communications and public affairs manager for the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, said beyond having a full reservoir, our cool, wet spring so far has also lessened demand for outdoor watering.
“From an outdoor water use perspective, the rain and snow we’ve had is free water,” Johnson said. “Folks might be getting their irrigation systems ready, and it’s good to check. But if they don’t need to use (those systems) yet, that’s good.”
At some point, and probably soon, the weather will get warmer and dryer, and the snow in the mountains will start to melt. Until it does, though, people who fish are still finding calm, fishable water locally.
Dave Budniakiewicz, of Minturn Anglers, said the cool spring has prolonged the spring fishing season. While streamflows are starting to rise, the water in the upper valley remains pretty clear and fishable.
Cole Bangert, of Sage Outdoor Adventures, said that clarity fades as you head west down the Eagle. The cutoff point is just a bit west of Wolcott, Bangert said, where Milk Creek and Alkali Creek are both dumping muddy water into the Eagle.
Until about that point, using bright colors will often get the attention of the fish, he said.
As streams become more active, fishing gives way to rafting.
Sage is the only local company that runs raft trips on Gore Creek. Those trips are far from assured from year to year, and the seasons can vary significantly in length — the Eagle’s season is more consistent and is usually much longer.
Understanding that weather conditions can change quickly, Bangert said he expects this year’s Gore Creek rafting season to be a good one — once the snowmelt accelerates.
“Once the temperatures warm up, we expect the creek will flow well for rafting and kayaking,” Bangert said, adding that conditions right now are ripe for continuing the Gore Creek rafting season well into June this year.
That season will start as soon as the creek hits a flow of 350 cubic feet per second at the measurement point just above Red Sandstone Creek in Vail. As of Sunday, the creek flow was 140 cubic feet per second.
That flow can come up quickly if the weather warms. Bangert said the creek rafts well at 350 cubic feet per second and above, but there is an upper limit.
“Anything above 1,250 (cubic feet per second) and it gets hard to get under the bridges,” Bangert said.
Once Gore Creek and the Eagle River start to run at those levels, fishing becomes all but impossible. That’s when people start the cars and head somewhere else.
In Minturn, Budniakiewicz said he knows people who head north to Wyoming, or, closer to home, the waters around Eleven Mile State Park in Park County.
Once the rivers calm, though, the current snowpack will still pay dividends.
“Rafters and boaters ought to be stoked right now,” Johnson said. “But the snowpack will provide good sustaining (stream) flows for fishing later on.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, email@example.com and @scottnmiller.