GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - Colorado's whitewater rafting season, which traditionally runs from May to September, has always been short and weather dependent. But rafting business this summer was more temperamental than usual.
Outfitters said the statewide drought, below-average snowpack levels and Colorado's many fires all attributed to a depressed rafting season in 2012.
"We definitely saw an impact in numbers of people who came to play with us this year," owner/operator of Grand Junction-based Adventure Bound River Expeditions Tom Kleinschnitz said.
Adventure Bound puts on guided rafting trips throughout Colorado and Utah. Tours include routes on the Colorado River, the Green River and Yampa River.
Having a drought year, compounded by an impactful Colorado fire season, packed a "1-2 punch," Kleinschnitz said, also noting that fires can be more harmful than drought to business regionally.
It can be difficult for someone in Virginia, for example, to understand where Front Range fires are in relation to a Colorado rafting trip on the West Slope if they're unfamiliar with the state, he explained.
Gateway Canyons Adventure Center also saw a deep dip in rafting trips on the Dolores River this summer. Adventure Center guide Nick Kroger said the outfitter normally hosts upwards of 30-40 trips a season, but this year it only hosted two commercial trips.
"The season lasted a couple days this year for the Dolores River," Kroger said. "Typically, the season lasts from mid-April into July if we're lucky."
Lower snowpack levels from the east San Juan Mountains were to blame for a sub-par rafting season on the Dolores River, Kroger said.
The river was, at a max, 1,000 cubic feet per second this summer, he said. In a good year, it reaches 4,000-5,000.
People looking for Class 5 rapids throughout Colorado and Utah were also disappointed this season, Kleinschnitz added. "It's not available this year."
Whitewater river rapids are rated 1-6, with class 5 being known for "extremely long, obstructed or very violent rapids that expose a paddler to added risk," according to the Colorado River Outfitters Association website.
Whitewater West, which specializes in water-related retail services in Grand Junction, also saw some of its sales activity dive this summer.
"The biggest impact was that the water was so low a lot of people canceled trips and, therefore, they didn't come into the store," Whitewater West owner Pete Atkinson said.
While Whitewater West didn't sell the number of rafts it usually does in a season, Atkinson said he did sell out of recreational kayaks; these small, hard-shell kayaks become handy when navigating lower water levels.
There were also positive aspects to this year's depressed rafting season, despite overall drought implications.
"The main runs through the Green River near Dinosaur National Monument had more water than normal," Kleinschnitz said.
Even so, it was hard to convey that message to people on a national and international level, he added, when the region overall was (and still is) experiencing drought.
Another plus - Adventure Bound's last trip down Colorado's Ruby Canyon just went last week, a sign that there's still water to float.
"There's still fun to be had, but it was hard to communicate that out of state," Kleinschnitz said. "Last Friday was our last trip, but we're open to chartering trips through November."
Despite drought and fire impacts felt in 2012, Kleinschnitz said he definitely remains hopeful for a better 2013 rafting season.
"Our 50th anniversary is in 2013 and we're beginning sales (for next year) online," he said. "All trips are underway."