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High hopes for whitewater

Matt Zalaznick
Special to the Daily/Toni AxelrodThough no one has declared an end to Colorado's drought, conditions on High Country rivers have changed significantly from last year. Cooler weather this spring should keep snowy peaks from melting fast, meaning a much more prolonged whitewater season this year. The rivers won't be as high as they were five or six years ago, however, veteran whitewater enthusiasts say.
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With plenty of snow left to melt in the High Country, boaters throughout the region are expecting a much better spring and summer on the local rivers and creeks than last year.”Last year, a lot of local interest was down – there was a lot of negative energy,” says Scott Ritter, a kayaker and manager at Eagle-Vail’s Alpine Kayak & Canoe. “There’s definitely a better buzz this year. Everybody’s getting their boats out.”Though no one has declared an end to Colorado’s drought, conditions have changed significantly from last year. The amount of water flowing down creeks and rivers and into reservoirs is predicted by measuring the snow left to melt at the top of mountain river basins – or “snowpack.”In fat, the snowpack on Vail Mountain is at its normal level – more than 240 percent higher than it was at this time last spring.Last year, what made conditions so bad was an unusually hot, dry and windy spring. Instead of melting and flowing into streams, snow simply evaporated into the air.”More days on the Eagle'”A lot of areas up high still have a lot of snow,” Ritter says. “The wet snow we’ve gotten has helped us tremendously. It’s given us more days on the Eagle.”Both the Eagle and Arkansas rivers should be running noticeably higher than last season, Ritter says.”We should see a much better year on the Eagle and hopefully on the Arkansas, as well,” he says.While some boaters say river conditions should be the best in five years, James Francis, a manager at the Colorado River Center, a guide company at Statebridge, says boaters this summer will still feel effects of the drought.”It should be a good season,” says Francis, a former Bureau of Land Management ranger who has been on the Colorado River twice a week for the last five years. “But we’ll probably still be feeling the drought for the next couple of years.”Cooler weather this spring should keep snowy peaks from melting as fast as they did last spring, Francis says. But, he adds, the rivers won’t be as high as they were five or six years ago.”We used to have some big, heavy snows with lots of snowpack that melted slowly,” Francis says. “We haven’t seen that in the last two or three years. But it’s staying cold and the snow should stay around a little longer – that’s when we get good water flows, when the snow melts slow.”Some High Country outfitters say they are expecting a rebound after last year’s low water kept people away.”Amped to raft'”Campy” Campton, owner of KODI Rafting in Frisco, says there’s probably a pent-up demand in the mountains and on the Front Range.”We missed out on a lot of local rafters – they knew the conditions,” Campton says. “With a year off, I think everybody will be amped to raft and have a good time.”The whitewater business has challenges, however, even with all the potential water. In years past, “right-to-float” debates between private landowners with water rights on rivers that run through their property and boaters using the same channels have sparked antagonistic confrontations on the Western Slope.Other outfitters in the region say now the that war in Iraq appears to have ended, people may be more willing to travel to Colorado for the whitewater on its streams and rivers.”If we can get the war over, more people will be comfortable traveling,” says Colorado River Outfitters Association Chairman John “Highside” Cantamessa, who owns Highside Adventure Tours and Good Times Rafting, in Frisco. “We take care of that, get some support from the tourism board and we’re looking at a nice summer.”Down on the river, the same philosophy that applies to snow during ski season applies to water during boating season.”The more, the better,” Ritter says. “The whole summer is going to be good.”Summit Daily News reporter Reid Williams contributed to this report.


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