Make sure you’re ready for the river
Ryan Moyer has been a whitewater rafting guide for about 12 years, but that's not what sets him apart. "Rafting Ryan," the bohemian, free-spirited co-owner of Up The Creek Rafting, has continued to spend time on the water with clients, even as he runs the business.
"It lets you see what's going on with your company from the front lines. I think everyone should learn something on the river," said Moyer, who believes his company is unusual in using owners as instructors.
His love of learning is why the 37-year-old guide teaches his students not only about geology and hydrology but also about water safety. He deems the Roaring Fork River an excellent starting place for beginning rafters, especially those who want to venture out on their own. But, he maintains, every beginning rafter should know the following before they go out for a ride.
As you prepare, don't lose sight of the reason you're out there: to have fun. Rafting comes with risks, but the chances of something happening are low.
"It's kind of like the risk of crashing in the airplane. You hear about the plane crashing but you don't hear about the successful trips every day," Moyer said.
PERSONAL FLOTATION DEVICES
Every rafter, beginner or not, should wear a personal flotation device. Even if the water is calm. Even if the rider is a strong swimmer.
Garfield County doesn't require individuals to wear life jackets, but that's beside the point. On commercial rides, Moyer must enforce the life jacket rule, but when riders go out alone, he always recommends one.
"The river is unpredictable," he said, adding that even in calm water, a rafter thrown overboard could become immobile due to such low water temperatures.
PFDs can also keep your head above water if your foot gets stuck in a rock — a rather common occurrence.
"Don't buy cheap inflatables from Walmart," Moyer said with a laugh. "They pop on the first rock you hit or they don't hold the right amount of air pressure for the cold water."
If an inflatable has multiple valves, it's likely proper for the river, he said.
Proper river tubes have several different chambers that contain air and keep the raft afloat. If you lose one chamber, others work as backups to help keep you afloat. In an improper river inflatable — what Moyer calls a "K-Mart coffin" — you'll likely sink to the bottom instead.
KNOW WHERE YOU'RE GOING
Scout the route if you've never taken it before. There could be obstacles, especially during high water that you might not be able to see with the naked eye.
Moyer recommends talking to someone who has taken the route recently, even if the route is familiar. New obstacles can arise.
KNOW WHAT YOU'RE CAPABLE OF
When people ask what routes would be a good fit for them, Moyer has a simple answer. The rafter must be able to swim through it.
"As we go up, [in classes] the likelihood of you swimming is going to go up. When you go up to a class four, you're most likely going be in the water," he said.
There are weight and age requirements for each class, but if someone is old enough, heavy enough and fit, Moyer will take them on a more intense route if they desire.
But, he says, most people prefer a class three trip. "Its more fun when you're not risking serious life and limb."
Many people bring coolers on their rafting trips and set their trash down on the boat, where it's likely to blow away.
If you see trash, don't be afraid to pick it up. You're enjoying the river, so keep it tidy for the next person who wants to enjoy it as well.
RIVER ACCESS POINTS
Loading and unloading points can get crowded, Moyer said.
"Don't sit on the ramp. Move your equipment quickly. Help the next person off the ramp. Don't yell at someone who is in your way."
It's easier said than done, but Moyer says if you do get caught in the water, try not to panic. Panicking adds an additional layer of stress, which makes recovery even more difficult.
Instead of panicking, when in doubt, use the whitewater swimming position. Point your feet downstream and sit like you're in a recliner so you can see where you're headed. Then you can guide yourself downstream and use your feet as shock absorbers. Foot entrapment is one of the biggest dangers on the trip, so keeping your feet up helps to combat that as well.
DON'T WEAR COTTON
Cotton stays wet, which means the rider will likely remain cold the entire ride. Instead, use synthetic, fast drying material like polypropylene.