Northern Colorado kayaking, rafting aficionados eager for expected ‘perfect‘ whitewater season

Ski resorts and farmers are far from the only beneficiaries of big winter snowfall totals — like those tallied this year — in Colorado‘s mountains.

Kayaking and rafting aficionados in Boulder County and across Northern Colorado are also celebrating the recent spring storms that boosted snowpack levels for river basins throughout the state even further above average. Now, they are anticipating a longer whitewater season than normal with rapids of ideal extremity for local streams.

“This will be a great year,” said Scott Shipley, a Lyons resident, three-time U.S. Olympic kayaker, five-time World Cup slalom champion and professional whitewater park designer. “Especially after last year when it was a lower water year, I think everyone is fired up to see what‘s coming this year.”

While the June opening of the kayaking course through among the St. Vrain River users community, enthusiasts are also looking forward to getting into the upper reaches of the stream and hearing the rush of the water while attempting to conquer it.

“I‘m sure Lyons will be good,” Longmont resident and kayaker Landis Arnold said. “The North St. Vrain is pretty extreme up above Lyons.”

But he and Lyons kayaker Amy Johnson explained some more weather conditions are necessary to ensure the more-than-usual winter precipitation pays off for river lovers.

“We‘re happy because there is so much snowpack, but the weather has to cooperate to keep the season going,” Johnson said.

The rate at which snow melts off the peaks determines everything, and while Arnold and Johnson fear warm weather arriving too quickly to make for a fast runoff and a shorter than wanted, yet extreme whitewater season, Shipley is confident it won‘t be too ephemeral.

“I‘ve never seen that fast runoff that everyone talks about,” Shipley said. “It always seems like we have a bit of a cold spell in May which surprises everyone. … On the best years, it starts to melt and it lasts.”

Rafting guides who operate on the state‘s bigger rivers are excited, too.

Bob Klein, manager of Laporte-based A Wanderlust Adventure, which runs rafting trips on the Poudre River, said he expects the whitewater to reach a happy medium between providing the thrilling rapids rafters enjoy without restricting riding some areas from the river due to unsafe, overly extreme conditions.

For part of the season in 2016, Klein said, he avoided taking his groups on some stretches of the Poudre for safety — that was a remarkably strong rafting year in the state, with record visitors and spending, .

“Those really high water years are fun, but sometimes June can be a little too high,” Klein said. “It‘s not going to be like that this year I don‘t think. It will be the perfect water level. Not too high, and not a low-water year. The time to go for locals I always tell them is the end of May and the first two weeks of June. That‘s when we‘re not that busy and the whitewater is fantastic.”

Klein‘s business is seeing a boost in trip reservations for the summer, he said, and Shipley expects the rapids to bring more kayaking enthusiasts to the state‘s renowned stretches of stream, too, including to the St. Vrain for the annual Lyons Outdoor Games May 31 to June 1.

“Better boaters come,” Shipley said. “… It makes for a more rowdy event that more people like to watch. I think a lot of people will travel to Colorado this year to do whitewater.”

The experts also stressed the need for overabundant caution when floating Colorado‘s creeks and rivers. Beginners should avoid putting in at spots where they have to navigate rough rapids in the early part of the season.

“It‘s higher water this year than last year. Traditionally what that means is there is some foolishness that happens,” Shipley said. “If you‘re getting into a river and that river is brown, you better know what‘s downstream of you and know how to handle it, have a life jacket and helmet on and be a part of a group.”

Even without the naturally occurring rapids soon to be generated by spring runoff, kayakers have plenty other reasons to be more excited this year than in the past. Shipley said he knows of about a half-dozen whitewater parks in addition to Dickens Farm that are set to open in areas throughout the state this summer, including one on the .

“There are six or seven whitewater parks in Colorado opening up this year. It should be amazing everywhere you go,” Shipley said.