High water everywhere? | AspenTimes.com

High water everywhere?

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Colorado’s river rafting business saw a huge rebound last summer, and a cold, snowy winter promises that this summer should be a boon for river rats as well.

Bruce Becker, chairman of the Colorado River Outfitters Association, which represents 45 commercial outfitters in the state, said business increased 48 percent from the difficult 2002 season. Drought conditions that year kept river levels low, and wildfires kept tourists away.

He said it’s the largest single increase the group has seen in “user days” in the past 15 years.

“As the drought lessened in 2003 and Colorado began promoting itself again as a tourism destination, river outfitters and the communities they operate in saw significant economic increases,” Becker said.

According to CROA’s 2003 report, commercial rafting in Colorado was a $116 million industry in 2003, compared to $78.5 million in 2002.

The association is predicting another successful year in 2004, based on current snowpack levels around the state. According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which tracks Colorado’s snowpack levels, the upper Colorado River basin (which includes the Roaring Fork River) is at 81 percent of the 30-year average.

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So does that mean that rafting in the Roaring Fork Valley is going to be even better this summer?

“Absolutely, positively,” said Bob Harris, owner of Blazing Adventures in Snowmass. “I’m amazed that the snow reports don’t list a higher snowpack than what I see in my front yard. I’m really dumbfounded by that.”

Harris said he doesn’t get hung up on numbers from the upper Colorado River basin, since that’s a large part of the state that extends up to Rocky Mountain National Park. Even locally, the numbers sometimes don’t tell the whole story.

“Snowmass and Aspen have really been dumped on, but if you look on the Web, what they measure up at Independence Pass says that we’re only at 90 percent, and it’s looking average,” he said. “But then again, average is great. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with average. Anytime we close a season and Snowmass has a 70- or 80-inch base, that’s a great year. And we’re in the mid-60s right now.”

[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com]

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