Riff Raft sold to Blazing Adventures | AspenTimes.com

Riff Raft sold to Blazing Adventures

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Local rafting company Colorado Riff Raft was sold to Blazing Adventures last week.

The sale solidifies Blazing Adventures’ status as the largest rafting outfitter in the upper Roaring Fork Valley. The company operates out of Aspen and Snowmass Village.

Peter Hicks has owned Riff Raft, which was founded in Aspen in 1979, for the past seven years. Blazing Adventures owner Bob Harris said Hicks approached him in September about selling the company. They finalized a contract in December, and the sale closed last week.

Harris said that the name Colorado Riff Raft will remain, and he plans on keeping all of Hicks’ employees in their current positions.

“He’s a great guy, and we really hit it off when he first moved to town seven years ago,” Harris said. “We’ve been involved in projects together on the river, like working with the Forest Service on regulations and with the county, and it’s been great to have a competitor who recognizes common ground.”

Hicks was not available for comment.

“They have a great brand identity, they’re a well-run company, and they have a loyal clientele, so there’s nothing else for me to do but run it,” he said.

In 1985 Harris bought River Rats, a company that also kept its name and primarily does fishing trips on the Gunnison River.

He said he does not think he’s forming a rafting monopoly, or at least “no more so than the Aspen Skiing Company has.” He points to other companies in the valley such as Ajax Whitewater Co. and Up Tha Creek Expeditions.

But Up Tha Creek owner Rick Covington disagreed. He said he’s worried that Harris is beginning to dominate the valley’s rafting business.

“Everyone has to have a permit to float most sections of river, and in some cases there has been a moratorium placed on additional permits,” Covington said. “If someone gobbles up all the permits and sits on them, that dominates what goes on.”

As owner of more than one rafting company in the valley, Harris should only have one permit for each of his companies, Covington argued, freeing up space for other companies to get permits.

Harris said he’s probably one of the only people in Colorado who has been working in commercial rafting for three decades. Harris, now 53, moved to Aspen in 1973 and began working for Blazing Adventures that summer.

He purchased the company in 1978, and later it expanded to offer all-around guide expeditions, not just whitewater rafting.

“We’re fundamentally a rafting company, but as the years progressed we were driven a lot by when we’d work with groups of 30 to 40 people who would say, ‘What else can we do?'” Harris said. “So we began doing a variety of other activities, and we’ll do it ourselves or refer people to several other local vendors.”

Blazing Adventures features biking tours, hiking trips, jeep tours and sunset dinners at cabins in the wilderness.

“This just makes perfect sense, and everyone is very excited about it,” Harris said of the merger. “I think it’s one of those things where one plus one makes three.”

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