Rafting the Roaring Fork
Pitkin County correspondent
Vail CO, Colorado
ASPEN, Colorado ” While the Shoshone rapid on the Colorado River outside of Glenwood Springs is only now dropping to runnable levels for commercial rafting companies, the upper Roaring Fork River is still crankin’ ” an overlap of whitewater possibilities that floats hopes for a stellar season in the paddling business.
Last summer, Aspen Whitewater Rafting ran its final trip on the Slaughterhouse section of the Roaring Fork below Aspen on June 22. That’s when the flows dropped to about 600 cubic feet per second (cfs) ” too low for company owner Jim Ingram’s commercial rafts to run what is considered a Class IV rapid during high water.
This season, the popular stretch has been running at a prolonged 1,400 cfs to 1,600 cfs after topping 2,000 cfs in late June ” a level that kept commercial boats off Slaughterhouse for about a week.
“The cool thing is, we’re going to be able to run the upper Fork for quite a bit longer,” Ingram said. “We’ve actually had, so far, the perfect rafting year.”
Aspen Whitewater also runs trips on the stretch of the Roaring Fork between Woody Creek and Wingo Junction above Basalt ” a Class III ride, and takes clients to the Arkansas River for full-day outings. Stretches of the Arkansas that have been too high so far this season are just now dropping to runnable levels ” another fortuitous bit of timing, Ingram noted.
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“The season has been, and will be, fantastic,” agreed Bob Harris, owner of Snowmass Village-based Blazing Adventures. “I thought the peaks would be higher. … What happened instead is we got a nice prolonged peak. That has translated into lots of people going rafting.”
Ingram senses his business is up slightly, but said he doesn’t tally the numbers until the season is over. Harris confirmed his business is up despite skyrocketing gas prices that some Glenwood-based rafting companies have cited as a factor affecting their business so far this season.
Geoffrey Olson, owner of Blue Sky Adventures in Glenwood Springs, said his business was down for May and June; he blamed high water and cold weather, as well as soaring fuel prices. However, Olson predicted a surge in business in July and August ” typically the company’s biggest months.
“It will be great water because of all the snow we got,” he said.
Whitewater Rafting in Glenwood is seeing “more economical travelers” who seem to be spending less, said co-owner Susi Larson.
“I think gas prices are a big part of it,” she said, adding, “We have had a good season still.”
Blazing Adventures runs trips on the Roaring Fork, Arkansas, Colorado and Gunnison rivers. So far, though, high water has kept the company’s rafts off the white-knuckle Shoshone stretch of the Colorado. That should change soon, Harris said.
The Colorado was running at 5,910 cfs at Shoshone on Wednesday morning. Flows below 6,000 cfs there mean Blazing Adventures can incorporate that stretch into its Colorado River offerings.
The good local water has been a boon from an economic perspective, given the price of gasoline to transport customers to farther-flung rivers, noted both Ingram and Harris.
“When I set my prices, I really wasn’t figuring in that gas would go up by two bucks a gallon,” Harris said.
Glenwood Springs Post Independent reporter Phillip Yates contributed to this report.