Colorado’s River Outfitters Rejoice as Late Snowfall Boosts Snowpack, Runoff

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Colorado’s late-season snowfall is giving the state’s rafting industry high hopes for a successful season. With spring snow boosting snowpack across the state and delaying the start of seasonal runoff, the Colorado River Outfitters Association (CROA) is reporting a normal, if slightly delayed, beginning to this year’s rafting season, which typically runs mid-May through mid-September.

Paddlesport retailers say the cold weather and rain may have slowed the sale of camping and hiking equipment, but created optimism for the rafting season that essentially launched Memorial Day weekend nationwide. According to CROA, summer bookings for this year are up over last year. “The outlook now is a lot different than it was six weeks ago,” said CROA president Dave Costlow. “Snow in May makes the phone start ringing, and we’ll trade snow in May for water in August.”

“It’s been slow starting but we’re optimistic for the rest of the season,” said Confluence Kayaks & Ski owner Jonathan Kahn.

According to CROA’s 2012 Economic Impact Study, Colorado’s rafting industry had a more than $127 million economic impact on the state’s tourism industry in 2012; and that was during a down year, plagued by warm temperatures and devastating wildfires. In 2011, Colorado’s rafting industry generated an economic impact of more than $151 million.

“In 2012, Colorado saw virtually no snow after March, and that situation was compounded by a warm spring and several devastating wildfires that garnered national attention,” said Costlow. April and May snow added several feet to Colorado’s snowpack. And while snowpack is not the only variable in determining water flow levels across the state, it is a good indicator for a healthy rafting season. “This puts outfitters on track to offer rafting throughout the typical rafting season,” said Costlow. Costlow said outfitters this year again are putting an emphasis on family rafting adventures.

“I have talked to a few outfitters and most outfitters had good to strong Memorial Day Weekend business,” Costlow added. “Outfitters are quite positive about the water outlook. The cooler temperatures slowing the melt, rain on the east slope and snow in the high country today just adds to optimism.” The Southeast and West have recorded abnormally wet spring weather as well.

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