Will streamflows peak this week during the GoPro Mountain Games?
By the numbers
4,310: Streamflow, in cubic feet per second, of the Colorado River between Pumphouse and State Bridge.
8,680: Streamflow on the Colorado between then Hanging Lake and Grizzly Creek Interstate 70 exits.
698: Streamflow on the Eagle River between Red Cliff and Tigiwon Road.
876: Streamflow on Gore Creek from East Vail to the confluence of the Eagle River.
Source: American Whitewater gauge readings from Wednesday, June 7, mid-afternoon.
EAGLE COUNTY — A cool month of May suppressed local runoff and streamflows. But recent warm weather, with more sunshine in the forecast, may bring streams to peak runoff in the next several days.
The runoff picture is good news for the GoPro Mountain Games, set to begin today with the Steep Creek Championship on Homestake Creek.
“It looks like we’ll have ideal whitewater conditions for the Mountain Games,” said Tom Boyd, director of public relations and communications for the Vail Valley Foundation, which puts on the event.
While runoff will be good for the games’ boating events, this year’s so-so snowpack ensures there’s little danger of flooding. That also means boating events will almost certainly go on as scheduled.
Boyd said races on Gore and Homestake creeks have had to be either rescheduled or canceled altogether in previous years due to hazardous conditions.
In 2016, Homestake Creek was running at more than 550 cubic feet per second during the games. That was an all-time record flow.
“We had 22 people bow out of the kayak events there (in 2016),” Boyd said. “Only the best in the world could run it.”
This year, the flows on Homestake Creek are in the 300 cfs range, which Boyd called “ideal” for the Mountain Games events.
“I’ve spoken with kayakers who are really pleased with the conditions,” Boyd said.
The story is similar along Gore Creek, with fast flows that still allow boaters to clear bridges and other structures across the stream.
Time to think safety
While there’s little danger of flooding almost anywhere in the Vail Valley this spring — barring a thunderstorm-borne deluge on a tributary creek — there are still hazardous spots on local streams.
Chris Johnson, operations manager at Lakota Guides, said the Dowd Chutes on the Eagle River are running strong enough right now that commercial rafting companies aren’t taking tours on that stretch. Johnson said local companies agree to stay off certain portions of local streams when they’re running above a certain level.
In the meantime, guide companies simply go elsewhere on trips.
No matter where professional or recreational boaters go right now, this is a prime time to remember safety protocols.
Dan Smith, of Vail Mountain Rescue Group, said that group’s rule requires anyone within 10 feet of running water to wear a life jacket and helmet. Team members also have a throw bag — a floating bag attached to a rope — on hand in case someone happens to fall into the water.
Water right now is dangerous for almost anyone, but especially those who aren’t trained.
Smith said a man in Vail last week went into Gore Creek after his dog was swept up. Everyone is fine, but the man needed to be rescued. The dog climbed safely from the creek downstream.
Smith said people need to fight the urge to go in after dogs or kids.
“Use a rope, use a hose, use anything, but don’t go in,” Smith said. “If you’re untrained and un-equipped, it doesn’t end well.”
Right now isn’t a good time to be in an inner tube on most local streams, and it’s really not a good time to load up a cooler with adult beverages.
Smith said along with proper equipment — and probably a check of the American Whitewater website or other stream-gauge reading resource before heading out — a fourth essential piece of gear is a working brain.
“Use your head, stay within your skill set,” Smith said. “If you have a skill set that can run the Dowd Chutes, go have fun.”
Trouble’s never far away
Still, even experienced river runners can get into trouble. Smith said the boaters involved in a Monday accident on the Upper Colorado River didn’t make any egregious mistakes. Elyssa McCreight, 32, died in that accident.
Boating “is an inherently dangerous sport,” Smith said, adding that most of the sports locals participate in have similar dangers.
Keeping safe on local streams is an all-the-time thing. Current conditions should soon turn more friendly for casual float trips.
Boyd, a valley native, said he looks every day from his home in Avon up to Game Creek Bowl on Vail Mountain. The bit of snow remaining on that slope means there should be a little more room for higher streamflows, he said.
Pete Wadden is the town of Vail’s water quality education specialist. Unsurprisingly, Wadden is also a boating enthusiast. Wadden has only lived in the valley for a few years, but looking at this year’s snowpack — bolstered by a large May snowfall — as well as the weather forecast for the next several days, he believes local streamflows should peak soon.
Boyd said he thinks streams will peak during the weekend. Wadden thinks the peak will come within the next 10 days or so.
Of course, the weather — temperature, precipitation and wind — will have the final say.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org and @scottnmiller.
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