Monday Medical: Melting snowpack creates risky river conditions |

Monday Medical: Melting snowpack creates risky river conditions

Mary Gay Broderick
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

The heavy snowfall that lead to an epic ski season is now causing high water and potentially dangerous conditions along the Yampa River.

As outdoor enthusiasts’ attention turns from ski runs to river runs, medical experts want you to be cautious when it comes to tubing, rafting, paddleboarding, kayaking and fishing in these cold and fast-moving waters.

“It’s a lot of fun to get out onto the river, but when you do, be safe and be smart,” said Dr. Dave Richter, an emergency medicine physician at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. “We want you to have a good time, but we want you to do it without making an unexpected and unwanted trip to the emergency department.”

Richter wants tubers to be extra careful, as many might be expecting a “lazy river” experience and not a fast and furious one.

“The river is a lot higher than last year,” he said, “so you need to increase your awareness of unexpected dangers.”

For those considering time on the water, Richter wants you to keep several things in mind to maximize your adventure and minimize your risk.

  • Always use a personal flotation advice, which is especially important for children. “Don’t think you can beat the current, it’s a lot faster than it might look,” said Richter.
  • Check river flow via phone apps or various websites that track the river levels. If it’s too high, postpone your activities for another day.
  • Go with a guide or someone who has experience with river activities, or at the very least, talk to an expert at a local shop or business about the current conditions.
  • Wear sunscreen and UV protective clothing for your arms and legs. A helmet is a good idea as well.
  • Wear water shoes or ones with hard soles to protect your feet from sharp rocks or other objects, glass or fishhooks. Shoes with firm soles can also help prevent slipping when walking along the riverbanks. “The sides of the river banks are slick, and it only takes a second for a slight misstep or slip for a tragedy to occur,” he said.
  • Early season water can be very cold. To avoid hypothermia, wear a wet or dry suit and have a plan once you’re out of the water, be it warming up in a vehicle, building or nearby hot spring, and have a change of clothes and towels.
  • Tell someone when you’re leaving, where you’re going and when you expect to be back.
  • Do not enter water with open sores or wounds that are healing, as the wound could get infected.
  • “Scouting the river is a good idea,” said Richter, either on foot or by car. Be mindful of bridges as the river’s rising can make you that much more vulnerable to hitting road underpasses and bridges.
  • Practice good river etiquette. Take turns on the rapids and don’t crowd others maneuvering through tight passageways.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol when participating in river activities. Being impaired can seriously affect your judgment and put you and others in danger.
  • Stay hydrated, but not with the river water. “If you’re working hard in a kayak or paddleboard, you’re going to get thirsty, so plan ahead,” said Richter.

Mary Gay Broderick writes for UCHealth. She can be reached at

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