Wild and Wet Yampa River Festival


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It was a wild, wooly and wet whitewater weekend June 1-3 in Paddling Life’s hometown of Steamboat Springs, Colo., with the 38th annual running of the Yampa River Festival, an off-the-radar, semi-serious gathering of river runners celebrating all things riversport.

With the southern part of the state wallowing in low water levels, Steamboat’s northern location made for a solid runoff year (area snowpack measured 89 percent in mid-April, bucking the statewide trend), with the river peaking at nearly 3,000 cfs below Soda Creek just a week earlier. This lured a contingent of kayakers from as far away as Alabama and even France to show up and compete, in preparation for their following week’s visit to the GoPro Mountain Games in nearby Vail.

Steamboat’s Marty Smith, of Mountain Sports Kayak School, races to second place in the Fish Creek Race.
(Photo by Brandon Walker)

Kicking off the weekend-long festivities was the annual Paddling Life Creek Race, held on a raging Class IV-V Fish Creek in the middle of town. With medium-high water of 2.5 on the gauge moving wood around, organizers started this year’s race halfway down the customary Middle Section, shortening the course but not anyone’s adrenaline creation. In the end, France’s Matt Dumolin ran the gauntlet of whitewater fastest, garnering a first-place podium finish at 2:11:72, followed by Steamboat local Marty Smith in second at 2:14:16 and France’s Tom Dolle in third just a second back at 2:15: 03.

A raucous riverside party ushered in the next day’s events, centered around Charlie’s Hole at the Bud Werner Memorial Library in the heart of downtown. With the river flowing a relatively user-friendly 1,600 cfs, hundreds of spectators—including those visiting town for the next day’s annual Steamboat Marathon — were drawn in droves to the vendor and booth area to catch the action under clear blue Colorado skies.

In the Downriver Kayak Race, a 20-minute sprint held from the Walton Pond put-in to the finish at Charlie’s Hole, Smith edged out Dumolin for the win, with local elder statesman Dave Wallace notching an impressive fourth-place showing. Alabama’s Bennett Smith won the coveted Kayak Cross event, forcing racers to jockey for position around a series of buoys before crashing through Charlie’s Hole to a mad-rush finish, with Alabama’s Hunter Katich wowing the crowd with his big air antics to win the day’s final event, the Big Trick Contest.

A Kayak Slalom event wrapped up the festival at Dr. Rich Weiss Park on Sunday, where Mountain Sports Kayak School owner Barry Smith used his fine-edged skills to procure the top podium spot.

For more information, and/or to get involved with and donate to host river conservation organization Friends of the Yampa, visit www.friendsoftheyampa.com.

FOY would like to extend a special thanks to the following sponsors:

City of Steamboat Springs, Storm Peak Brewing, Hala Gear, Alpaca Raft, Big Agnes, Golden Leaf, Rocky Mountain Remedies, Mountain Sports Kayak School, Backdoor Sports, Hog Island Boat Works, Chaos Ink, Post Net, Aces High, Grass Sticks, Steamboat Paddleboard Adventures, The Chief Theatre, Steamboat Pilot and Today, KFMU, The Reel, The Green Company, Mountain Tap Brewery, Peace Love Petcare, Spiffy Dog, B&K Distributing, Rig to Flip, Big Hollow Designs, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Yampatika, Yampa Valley Fly Fishers, Skull Creek Greek, Hungry Dog

–Tim Braun



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