April snowstorms and cool spring weather have Vail Valley boaters excited about the coming whitewater season.
“The last couple of snowstorms that we’ve gotten and cooler weather have definitely seemed to save the day,” said Sean Glackin, owner of Alpine Quest Sports in Edwards, which teaches kayaking lessons and sells kayaks.
Local rafters and kayakers hope for lots of snow during the winter, which then melts and provides big, fun whitewater for a lengthy period of time.
While the Vail area saw below-average snow for much of the winter, there were big storms in April. And the cool spring weather ensures a slow runoff, which lengthens the whitewater season.
Through March, local snowpack was tracking at about the same level of the 2001-02 drought year. But, by Monday, the April storms had pushed snowpack levels at Vail Mountain to about twice of what they were in 2001-2002.
That means there is plenty of snow at high altitudes waiting to melt into rivers.
There was 19.3 inches of “snow water equivalent” at Vail Mountain on Monday. The average for that time of year is 23.6 inches.
Rivers are still running below average this week. The Eagle River at Avon was flowing at 350 cubic feet per second on Wednesday, compared to an average of about 700 cubic feet per second.
Kayakers are already navigating Dowd Chute, one of the more advanced sections of the Eagle River.
“People on a daily basis are running Dowd Chute,” Glackin said.
While this might not be the biggest year of whitewater ever, that might not be all bad, said local kayaker Ken Hoeve. Less violent water can be more friendly to beginner and intermediate kayakers, Hoeve said.
“There’s nothing wrong with low-water years in that it’s better for the average person to go out,” Hoeve said.
He added that many of the local rivers — including the upper Colorado, the Shoshone area near Glenwood Springs, as well as the Arkansas River — are dam-controlled, which ensures high, steady flows for much of the spring and summer.
John Dakin of the Vail Valley Foundation, which puts on the Teva Mountain Games in early June, said things are looking good for the whitewater events.
“Everyone’s feeling pretty good with where we’re at at the moment, and the Mountain Games have certainly run on less snowpack than currently exists,” Dakin said.