Heavy snow means great rafting on Western rivers

April 27, 2017
Heavy snow means great rafting on Western rivers

Like skiers, whitewater rafting fans are excited about this season’s heavy snowfall in the West. Several rafting operators are predicting a wild season as the rivers swell with spring showers and snowmelt.

“This year’s rafting will be as good as it gets,” predicted Steve Lentz, the owner of Far and Away Adventures, an Idaho company that offers luxury river rafting on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River and other waterways.

He noted that snowpack in the region was 30 percent to 50 percent above normal and that wet snowfall in March added to it, with conditions indicating strong flows in May and June. (Four-day trips in May cost $2,525.)

The early season on the Arkansas River in Colorado will serve “adrenaline-junkie guests looking for high water, big waves and big holes,” said Andy Neinas, the owner of Echo Canyon River Expeditions, based in Colorado. (Day trips start at $103.)

But big water may also serve those seeking rides on the milder side. Neinas likened snowmelt to a block of ice on a sidewalk on a hot day.

“The cube of ice will obviously melt quickly,” he explained. “That’s our spring high-water season. Because there is so much more water, the block of ice will take a much longer time to melt, and that illustrates our long season of family-friendly flows.”

In southwestern Colorado, Mild to Wild Rafting plans to run its first full season on the Dolores River since 2008. It includes a Class IV rapid known as Old Snaggletooth that rafters ages 11 and younger must walk around when the water is high. (Trips run one to six days and start at $149.)

Water levels in some popular areas for rafting, like the Grand Canyon, are based on controlled dam releases, which are more predictable. Even among those that rely on nature’s tap, above-average snowfall doesn’t ensure higher water in rafting season, which is generally May through August.

Brian Merrill, chief executive of Western River Expeditions, based in Salt Lake City, said snowpack had fallen sharply with warm March temperatures. This may affect trips on a stretch of the Colorado River in Utah known as Cataract Canyon. (Four-day trips are $1,475.)

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