Kayakers paddled Howelsen in annual snow race, but they’ll hit the Yampa soon
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — You have to paddle harder when you’re kayaking on snow.
At least, that’s according to paddler Kirsten Lovas. She competed in Sunday’s second annual snow kayak race hosted by the Paddling Club at Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs.
“It doesn’t propel you forward as quickly, so you have to paddle pretty hard,” she said. “When you flip over, you’re not drowning upside-down with your head hitting rocks.”
Lovas and other racers skidded down Howelsen Hill on kayaks, several of them flipping their boats as they splashed into the waist-deep pool at the bottom of the bunny hill. For the first time this year, paddlers surfed down the hill on stand-up paddleboards (or occasionally, over bumps and the course’s only turn, kneel-down paddleboards).
It won’t be long until these paddlers swap out the moguls for waves and the racecourse for the river, and this year, local river rats are preparing for higher water than what the Yampa Valley’s seen in recent years.
“I’m ready for the snow to start melting,” Lovas said. “I love to snowboard, but I’m super stoked on this river season.” She’s so stoked that she recently quit her job as a trauma nurse to lead raft trips as a guide on the Arkansas River.
Snowpack typically peaks around April 10, after which it melts off into the Yampa River and its tributaries. That means, soon, quite a bit of water will soak into the ground and the river.
As of Friday, snowpack in the Yampa and White River Basin was at 127 percent of average snow water equivalent, a measure of how much moisture is contained in the snow.
CMC Paddling Club President Kevin Fitch said that, with a snowpack that’s “a heck of a lot bigger than we’ve seen in the last three years,” he’s eager to see what the Yampa and Elk rivers turn into this summer.
“I’m excited to see fish bump up and stick around for a good month this year,” he said. “I’m excited to see different creeks that may be coming in this year that haven’t in the last several and, really, just a sustained amount of water in the Yampa, so that we can hope and cross our fingers that we won’t hit the same water restrictions that we saw last year.”
Everyone from ranchers to paddlers to anglers and water managers hope for the gradual rise in temperatures that lead to a slow, steady runoff. If warm weather springs too early, too much water can rush off too fast. This rush of water might be fun to paddle for a bit, but it means the river would likely fall off to a low level for most of the summer.
“Anytime there is a good snowpack at the end of the ski season, we do risk having a hot spring that will melt the snowpack off early, so, of course, we need a strong showing from Mother Nature in April and May to keep that snowpack deep,” said Friends of the Yampa President Kent Vertrees.
All that snow — and all that water — also offers the possibility of flooding. Vertrees said the Yampa is the one big river in the west that can still flood its banks. This is good, Vertrees said, because it creates habitat for endangered fish species in the lower, drier stretch of the Yampa, but it can also create a nuisance for producers hoping for a good hay crop.
“A high water season does impact many users, specifically private landowners,” he said. “It delays their cuts. It puts debris in their lands. A wild Yampa River — that I think most everybody is encouraged about — can also be a nuisance. It’s something that we’ve also grown up with, and those landowners who are adjacent to the river should recognize and plan for it. We don’t have those big reservoirs that impact our runoff, be it for water storage, for municipal use or flood control. That’s just part of the game that we play here in the Yampa Valley.”
If high water does come, Fitch has one plea. Keep your trash out of the river.
“Try and keep it clean,” he said. “That’s always the biggest worry with big runoff seasons.”
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