Colorado’s high country is still buried in snow, but at lower elevations, the state’s river outfitters are gleefully preparing for an exciting rafting season. All that powder – nearly 116 percent of the typical season’s totals, according to the National Weather Service – has to melt, and if the weather cooperates, it could mean months of thrilling whitewater. It’s all in the timing, says David Costlow, a river outfitter for more than 20 years and executive director of the Colorado River Outfitters Association (CROA), a trade group of 50 river rafting companies.
“We don’t want it to get warm in April and stay warm. Then, it will all melt too quickly. That recharges the reservoirs, but doesn’t allow the rivers to last very long.”
RR: With more than 15 percent of the snow accumulation season left in Colorado, is the rafting industry hopeful?
Costlow: We are pretty optimistic with the snowpack. This time last year, we were still in a drought, and it didn’t really start snowing until April.
RR: When does the season begin?
Costlow: Most outfitters will start by the middle of May. In western Colorado, around Durango, the season starts in April. Some of the Arkansas River outfitters will start up in late April.
RR: When is the big water?
Costlow: Typically around June 5 for the Arkansas River; June 10 for the Poudre River.
RR: What if you’re looking for scenery, wildlife and a less-than-wild beginner or family adventure?
Costlow: Then the end of June through August is perfect. The air and water temperatures are higher then.
RR: Will rafters and kayakers notice any remnants of last year’s devastating flooding and wildfires in Colorado?
Costlow: When you are on the river, you are focused on the river. There might be a few bare spots along some of the rivers, but the industry didn’t suffer any losses.
RR: Any new trends this year?
Costlow: Combination adventures are big. There are quite a few outfitters that have added zip lines, allowing people to do a half day of rafting and a half day of zip lining. Others offer packages with other outdoor recreation – there’s at least one that offers a package with horseback riding. Some outfitters specialize in overnight trips.
RR. How about on the water?
Costlow: Duckies (inflatable kayaks) are more and more popular. They are more forgiving and stable than a kayak, and you don’t have to learn to roll them before you take them out. And you are on your own in the water.
And standup paddle boarding is increasingly popular. There are places on the Colorado River that are perfect for paddle boarding. So is the Milk Run, a mild section of the Arkansas River near Salida.
To find a Colorado outfitter, go to croa.org