Yampa River Festival is wild and wet
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It was a wild, wooly and wet whitewater weekend in Steamboat Springs as paddlers gathered June 1 to 3 for the 38th annual running of the Yampa River Festival, celebrating all things river.
With the southern part of the state wallowing in low water levels, Steamboat’s northern location has made for a solid runoff year, with the river peaking at nearly 3,000 cfs below Soda Creek just a week earlier. This lured a contingent of kayakers from as far away as Alabama and even France to show up and compete in preparation for their following week’s visit to the GoPro Mountain Games in nearby Vail.
“It was an incredible weekend of whitewater fun for everyone from competitors to spectators,” said Kent Vertrees, president of the nonprofit Friends of the Yampa, which hosts the event. “It was a beautiful sunny day, and the river level was perfect. Hopefully, it will help everyone further appreciate and protect this amazing resource we have flowing through the heart of downtown.”
Kicking off the weekend-long festivities was the annual Paddling Life Creek Race, held on a raging section Class IV-V Fish Creek near Mount Werner Water’s Fish Creek Treatment Plant. With medium-high water of 2.5 on the gauge moving wood around, organizers started this year’s race halfway down the customary middle section, shortening the course but not anyone’s adrenaline creation.
In the end, France’s Matt Dumolin ran the gauntlet of whitewater fastest, garnering a first-place podium finish at 2:11:72, followed by Steamboat’s Marty Smith in second at 2:14:16 and France’s Tom Dolle in third just a second back at 2:15: 03.
A raucous riverside party ushered in the next day’s events, centered around Charlie’s Hole behind Bud Werner Memorial Library in the heart of downtown. With the river flowing a relatively user-friendly 1,600 cfs, hundreds of spectators, including those visiting town for the next day’s annual Steamboat Marathon, were drawn in droves to the vendor and booth area to catch the action under clear blue Colorado skies.
In the Downriver Kayak Race, a 20-minute sprint from the Walton Pond put-in to the finish at Charlie’s Hole, Smith edged out Dumolin for the win, with Steamboat elder statesman Dave Wallace notching an impressive fourth-place showing. Alabama’s Bennett Smith won the coveted Kayak Cross event, forcing racers to jockey for position around a series of buoys before crashing through Charlie’s Hole to a mad-rush finish.
In the hard-fought, annual-bragging-rights-on-the-line Downriver Raft Race, it was a dual-powered oar boat by Kremmling team Waterborn Illness taking first at 17:38, with the local Pickle Smooches in second at 19:17 and Red Rockets in third at 19:33.
Following that came the carnage-filled Tube Rodeo, where waterlogged locals Dan Brabec and Jordan Troiani finally conceded to a tie and a split of the purse sponsored by Hog Island Boatworks.
For the burgeoning sup events, in Men’s SUP Downriver it was Jeremiah Williams stroking to first place at 16:17, followed by Bodhi Harrison 14 seconds back at 16:31 and Eric Baker at 16:32. For the women, Nadia Kalizewski finished first at 26:58, with Hannah Nelson taking second at 26:58 and Kerri Rougemont third with a time of 27:27.
Sup Cross also saw a strong showing, forcing paddlers around buoys before plunging to the finish below Charlie’s Hole. For the men, Jeremiah Williams notched another first, followed by Bodhi Harrison and Robbie Prectl. In the hard-fought women’s division, Clara Dundee commanded the top spot, with Kerri Rougemont taking second and Hannah Nelson third.
With spectators amped up on sponsor Storm Peak Brewing Co.’s wares, Saturday’s final event was the much-anticipated Big Trick Contest at Charlie’s Hole. There, with crowd applause a determining factor in the judging, Alabama pro paddler Hunter Katich, a student at Auburn when not chasing whitewater, wowed the crowd with his big air antics to win the top podium spot.
A Kayak Slalom event wrapped up the festival at Dr. Rich Weiss Park on Sunday, where Mountain Sports Kayak School owner Barry Smith used his finely honed skills to secure the win.
“It’s a super fun event. Steamboat has a great river vibe,” said pro paddler Katich, before leaving town to compete in the GoPro Games. “We’ll be back next year for sure, with even more friends.”
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