If you’re going to get flooded out of your house, it helps if you’re as familiar with water as three-time World Cup Slalom Champion Scott Shipley is.
Shipley was in Prague, Czech Republic, talking to ICF officials about the upcoming Olympic whitewater course in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, when he got a text from his wife telling him their local St. Vrain River was flooding. “At first I told her not to worry about it, but then she said the sump pumps were on,” he says. When he realized the severity of it, he got home in 24 hours.
When he arrived, the situation sunk in like mud in people’s basements. A record 21-plus inches of rain fell in a week-long deluge in Boulder County, rising rivers to unprecedented, 500-year-flood levels. Shipley’s home along the flooding St. Vrain River near Lyons, home of the annual Lyons Outdoor Games (whose play park is all but destroyed), was in its path along with countless others.
“I would’ve never guessed this sort of thing could have happened here,” says Shipley, who showed up with two five-gallon containers of drinking water for his family. “I could’ve paddled from my house out of town, but they wouldn’t have let me back in and I would have been stuck at the shelter.”
A pond by his house had been consumed by the river. “Our house instantly became river front,” he says. “But we were very lucky.”
Estimates report the St. Vrain crested at more than 10,000 cfs.
“There were literally seven different islands where people and neighborhoods were completely stranded,” he says.
Shipley says he also realized a few things from the deluge – primarily the importance of community.
“I learned that whatever you have in your home, that’s all you have,” he says. “When your fridge turns off your food disappears pretty quickly. But we have a great community here. People got together pitching in for barbecues and helping each other out however they could, from hooking up multiple pumps to generators to sharing food. I’ve never seen a community get together like that.”
And, of course, the paddler in him was also intrigued. “I kind of wanted to paddle some of it, but officials said there was a dam up there that was about to break loose,” he says. “So we decided to get loaded up and get out of there.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he adds.
Despite warnings from officials to stay out of the water, others, like local kayakers Forrest Noble and former international slalom racer Will Grubb, got out on Boulder Creek at 2,000 cfs, which would eventually crest at 5,100 cfs, completely obliterating the existing high water mark for the day of just 144 cfs.