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Vail area whitewater rafting

Ed Stoner
Vail CO, Colorado
Photo from getty imagesRiver rafting in the valley runs the gamut from adrenaline-pumping rapids to lazy float trips.
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Mongo Reeder can get a little anxious when he hears the rumble of whitewater. Chances are, though, he’s floating on something like the Zambezi River in Africa. The raging Zambezi is about 40 times bigger than springtime Dowd Chute, a popular rafting trip here in the Vail Valley. “It’s hard to fathom how much water there is,” Reeder said.

Reeder has rafted in Africa, Ecuador and the Czech Republic. He’s done first descents ” which have never been rafted before by anyone ” across Colorado. “It keeps you on the top of your game,” he said. “It gets you out of your comfort range, which is helpful to anyone.”

He sees the same thing when he takes people rafting with his company, Timberline Tours, where he is head guide. People start off anxious and nervous. They leave confident and ready to do it again.



“That’s one of the most rewarding things,” he said.

Timberline and its competitors, Lakota River Guides and Nova Guides, lead tours on the Eagle, Colorado and Arkansas rivers all summer long. And why go rafting in Colorado? For Reeder, that’s like asking why go skiing in Colorado.



“It’s kind of a rafting mecca here in Colorado,” he said.

All kinds of choices

The options for rafting here run the gamut from float trips to hard-core adventure. And all of the trips have great scenery, from rolling pinyon-sagebrush high desert to spectacular, rocky canyons. On a float trip like the Upper Colorado River, you can sit back and enjoy the surroundings. It’s a good trip for young kids. While there are a few small rapids, much of the water is flat. On something like the Gore Canyon, a Class V stretch of the Colorado River north of Vail, you’ll be expected to paddle hard to get the boat where it needs to go. It’s considered one of the most difficult commercially rafted runs in the U.S.



Guides will give the instruction you need. The companies also provide the equipment ” a personal flotation device, a helmet, a paddle, booties and a wetsuit. Companies also include transportation and a snack or lunch.

The Class II Upper Colorado and the Class V Gore Canyon are the two ends of the spectrum. In between are:

– The Class III Shoshone Rapids on the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon. It takes about 45 minutes to get there from Vail.

– The Class III Brown’s Canyon on the Arkansas River, south of Leadville. It takes about an hour to get there from Vail.

– The Class IV Pine Creek and Numbers runs on the Arkansas River. Travel time is, again, about an hour.

The scenery is pristine, Reeder said. “In some cases, for these runs on the Arkansas, there’s no other way to see these places,” he said.

Teamwork is key

Mongo’s real name is Chris, but only his mom and his wife call him that. He came to Vail in 1987, just to ski for a winter. “It’s a hard place to leave,” he said. He’s a ski patroller in the winter and a raft guide in the summer. Just when he gets tired of skiing, it’s time to take to the rivers. Reeder has been a raft guide here since 1987, when he moved here from Maine.

On the water, his resume includes several national championships with the other members of the Timberline Tours men’s rafting team. They’ve also gone to the world championships several times ” including Ecuador in 2003 and the Czech Republic in 2005, where they took third place overall. They’re headed to South Korea this summer to compete again in the worlds. Teamwork is a huge part of rafting, he said, whether it’s the men’s national team or a bunch of buddies boating on the Arkansas. So would Reeder rather be staring down at Gore Canyon when it’s running big in August or at Vail Mountain’s China Bowl on a foot-deep powder day in February? “I don’t know,” he said. “I love them both.”


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