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The real splash of spring

Shauna Farnell
Preston Utley/Vail DailyEvan Bartlett of Eagle-Vail works on his technique in the rapids of Dowd Junction as he kayak's in the Eagle River Thursday in Eagle-Vail.
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EAGLE COUNTY – While mudseason creates an impasse for many mountain athletes, there is one sport that is unfolding into its prime this time of year while the trails are wet and the snow is disappearing.”This is my favorite time of year,” said long-time local kayaker Ian Anderson. “We can paddle in the snow, and we do consistently. But this is prime time for boating. Berry Creek (one of the few upvalley mountain biking options dry enough to ride at the moment) gets old quickly, and making the trek to Eagle is tough. If you want to be the true multi-sport athlete, you have to pick up kayaking for mudseason.”The Vail Valley is mostly known for its winter sports and its summer golfing and cycling possibilities, but it is also the home of some of the best easy-access intermediate and expert kayaking waters in Colorado.

“I’ve lived in Colorado all my life, but when I discovered kayaking, I realized that my year was complete,” said Colorado River Center owner Chris Amoroso. “The thing about right now is, it’s a powder day every day. There are surfers that spend their lives out there waiting for a great wave. But you get a 4-foot standing wave in Dowd Chute every day. It really rounds out your year.”Dowd Chute, an area of Class IV water on the Eagle River between the Holy Cross Ranger Station and Kayak Crossing, has been packed with paddlers the last couple of weeks, and any one of them will be the first to say that the running is only going to get better.”It’s just beginning,” said Sean Glackin of Alpine Kayak in Avon. “We’ve been running it for a couple weeks and it’s been low. We’ve been forcing it. After the warm weekend, we’ll see it come up a lot more. We’ve seen it come up just in the last week with the weather getting away from the snowy cycle. In the end, I think it’s going to make it a longer season. We’ll have to see what the weather does from here on out. It’s been on its way up. Right now it’s just starting.”There is a gauge on the Dowd Chute that measured 2 feet, 2 inches as of Monday evening, which translates to about 546 cubic feet per second (CFS). Boaters say they’ve seen it get as high as 11 feet, or 4,000 CFS, and with the unseasonably cold spring and the late boost in snowpack, paddlers predict the running level should hit high waters and last longer than usual. In addition, they’ve been pleasantly surprised with the availability of other creek beds that are typically dry.

Testing the waters”In years like this, the nice thing is all the creeks and rivers that don’t traditionally run, they might come up,” Amorosa said. “When you look at an area like Muddy Creek at Wolcott – it’s only 4 or 5 feet wide, barely as wide as your kayak. But you find when it snows or rains in the season, you might get to run it. It drops through the cliff band, and it’s just great. It’s been about five years since I was able to do that one. Everything else looks good; all the classics – Gilman Gorge and Homestake. We have a good Teva Games coming up. We should have a good season.”The Teva Games kick off in Vail the first week of June and draw the best kayakers from around the nation and world to compete in time trial and freestyle contests. There is an open division in every event and several local boaters are expected to put their skirts to the test.

Local expert sections (Class V) of water include Gilman, Homestake and some newly discovered drops on Vail Pass.”There’s so much good stuff to keep you busy, that’s why I settled here originally,” Glackin said. “People have done some first descents in the Vail Pass area, on the Cross Creek drainage. It looks like a good season.”In the meantime, the options for paddling in the valley will only get to be more vast as the warm temperatures continue.”Once Gore Creek gets a little higher, it’s great for the Class II or IV boater,” Anderson said. “What’s great for intermediates is starting at Edwards Lake by Brett Ranch, by the sewage treatment plant. You can go all the way to Eagle. The challenges for beginners on the Eagle is it’s not a traditional pool-drop river. There’s not a lot of recovery places. Traditionally, going to State Bridge on the Colorado is the best place for beginners.”Vail Colorado


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