Paddlers take to the Colorado River in New Year’s Day tradition |

Paddlers take to the Colorado River in New Year’s Day tradition

A group of more than 100 boaters took to the Shoshone section of the Colorado River for float

More than 100 kayakers, whitewater rafters and stand-up paddleboarders braved icy conditions in Glenwood Canyon Wednesday to participate in a New Year's Day tradition dating back to the 1970s.
John LaConte |

GLENWOOD CANYON — Paddlers from all over the state gathered in Glenwood Canyon on Wednesday to ring in the new year on ice.

Using kayaks, catarafts, stand-up paddleboards and canoes, a group of more than 100 took to the Shoshone section of the Colorado River, where the current moves fast enough to prevent the water from freezing.

Peter Holcombe, the unofficial ring leader of the event, said that particular section of the Colorado River is the only place in the state that can host a reliable New Year’s Day paddling event every year.

“It’s moving enough that it doesn’t have those still pools that freeze over,” Holcombe said. “If you go to the Arkansas River, the rapids will still be open, but as soon as that water hits a pool, it just freezes into an ice shelf. And that can be really dangerous.”

Warmer in the water

Nevertheless, boaters saw their fair share of danger on Wednesday.

Participate in The Longevity Project

The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.

Participating in the New Year’s Day float for his first time, Colorado Springs kayaker Aaron States got caught in some trouble and had to swim out of his boat.

“There was a hole I wasn’t expecting out there,” he said. “It was warmer in the water than out of the water.”

While the air temperature hovered around 20 degrees Fahrenheit, the water temperature was in the 30s.

“My eyelashes were almost frozen shut,” States added.

Bryce Smaic, 12, exited the water with ice in his eyelashes and a smile on his face on Tuesday. It was his first time participating in the annual New Year’s Day event.
John LaConte |

‘Like a big family’

One of the youngest participants on the day also exited the water with frozen eyelashes. Bryce Smaic, 12, said while he’s done the Shoshone route a few times before, it was his first time doing the New Year’s Day event. His father, Dejan Smaic, said he was proud of his son for participating.

“We’re always trying to outdo each other, but today I didn’t want to compete with him,” Dejan Smaic said. “I didn’t want to go upside down in the cold water.”

Leonie Francis, of Avon, said she always wondered what it would be like to go upside in the cold water. She found out on Tuesday.

“We were going through an S-move, we were back paddling and then we went to go forward but didn’t have enough momentum and high-sided on a rock,” Francis’ paddling partner, Kyle Buss, said of the incident. “We all climbed up on the top of the boat, and then the water caught the bottom tube and flipped us over.”

Francis found herself under the raft momentarily, but another boat came along quickly and pulled her out after a few seconds.

“We had a couple rafts help us get it over to the shore and get back upright,” Buss said.

Holcombe said with so many expert paddlers on the water, the risk of that activity has been mitigated considerably in recent years.

“Everybody out here is looking out for everybody else,” Holcombe said.

Holcombe said when he first started participating in the event about 15 years ago, he knew there would be people there, as the event has been a tradition since the 1970s, but he couldn’t talk any of his friends into coming with him.

“I drove down from Boulder, by myself, just knowing there’d be other people here and hoping they would let me paddle with them,” Holcombe said. “And now, it’s like a big family.”

Support Local Journalism