Whitewater Rafting Companies Benefit From Abundant Snowfall

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Near-record snowpack in the central Rockies means rivers in Colorado are running high this year. The turbulent waters have resulted in a number of deaths.

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A near-record snowpack in the central Rockies means rivers in Colorado are running high this year, which is good news for whitewater rafting companies. Swollen rivers now should mean rapids that will be rushing throughout the summer. Marci Krivonen of Aspen Public Radio reports.

MARCI KRIVONEN, BYLINE: Long-time rafting guide Bob Morse is giving his safety spiel to a small group preparing to board a bright yellow raft.

BOB MORSE: OK, and the way we sit in the boat is sidesaddle - both feet inside.

KRIVONEN: For some, this is their first time rafting.

ELLIE BURNETT: I'm excited. Today's my 34th birthday.

KRIVONEN: Ellie Burnett is from Champaign, Illinois. She decided to celebrate on the river but admits the high flows make her a bit nervous.

BURNETT: We were watching the water this morning. It's definitely moving fast but they're experienced and it looks like a ton of fun. So I am excited. And if I fall out, you know, I can swim. I got a vest.

KRIVONEN: Good, consistent flows support an important industry in Colorado. Whitewater rafting typically brings well over $100 million to the state each year. The commercial rafting company Whitewater Rafting just started its summer season and the rivers are flowing high. Erik Larsson owns the company, situated alongside the Colorado River.

ERIK LARSSON: Some of our rafting yesterday - I was a little scared about it, for sure. We've had a few calls to say, is it safe? Are you even going? Should I still come? Should I bring my kids?

KRIVONEN: The concerns aren't surprising. Swollen waters across the state have claimed several lives this spring. But few were related to commercial rafting. The rivers are louder and rapids more violent than in recent years, thanks in part to abundant winter snowfall. David Costlow is executive director of the Colorado River Outfitters Association.

DAVID COSTLOW: Part of our thing right now is to get the message out and to remind people that - even beyond people that aren't going on trips with us - to be smart around flows. You know, they're high, they are exciting to watch but don't get too near the shore. And, you know, keep a life jacket on when you need to.

KRIVONEN: Some stretches of river are too full to safely float now. But Costlow says that's a good thing because the healthy runoff could mean a long productive season for whitewater rafting companies.

COSTLOW: I think many people anticipate the rafting will be great and it will be because of all the snowpack. And we've had sufficient rains on the prairie to kind of, you know, wet the soils, etc. so less gets absorbed into the ground and more comes down rivers.

KRIVONEN: Along the Colorado, high flows forced company Whitewater Rafting to modify its normal route and send rafts down safer waters, bypassing a big rapid. Owner Erik Larsson hopes to get back to what he calls the big show in town soon.

LARSSON: When the river is six times the size of what you've seen if you rafted with us in the last two years, it just totally changes the river landscape.

MORSE: But what if somebody falls out?

KRIVONEN: Back at the safety lesson, raft guide Bob Morse wraps up his talk.

MORSE: Try not to freak out. You're not going to sink.

KRIVONEN: The small group slides on life jackets and loads into a school bus headed for high water. For NPR News, I'm Marci Krivonen in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

WERTHEIMER: This is NPR News.

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