Colorado snowpack | How does March snow affect summer rafting in Colorado?
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Colorado snowpack | How does March snow affect summer rafting in Colorado?

Spring Snowpack’s Affect on Colorado Rivers for Summer Rafting

Have you ever thought about why some rivers or creeks have lower or higher water years? Well if you have, I have the answer for you!

What we call a “Snowpack” is what affects the levels on the rivers and creeks through out the years.

Let us define it in a few more words for you: In the winter all of that snow that hits the mountains actually does affect us on the rivers, the more snow, the more water! It also depends on how the weather is in the summer. Let’s go over some more in depth reasons as to why the snowpack affects us on the river.

Simpler terms: All that snow gets compacted onto the mountains, in what we call a “snowpack”. The more snowpack we get, the more snow will melt off in the summer and bring river levels up.

Let’s start with winter snow

You may be wondering what winter snow has to do with rafting, but like we mentioned before, rafting in Colorado is directly affected by the snow we get all winter. Surprisingly, our winter will play the biggest role in our summer.

Snow, winter, colorado

When we get snow, how much snow we get, and when it starts to melt are all crucial for rafting.

Rising Temperatures

Those variables I mentioned above are the reason we are so crazy about checking snowpack every step of the way.

If the summer temperatures rise too quickly, most of that snow is going to melt off too quick. In that case the water levels would rise and peak very high, but in turn the water levels would not hold that high for too long and the season would fall off quickly.

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So, slowly rising temperatures are good for rafting, but quickly rising temperatures are bad for rafting. We do not want to go from 15 degrees to 50 degrees no matter how good that warm weather may feel!

Not too fast but also it cannot be too slow…

What we really want is a slow rise in temperature where it plateaus decently and doesn’t melt the snow off too quickly. That way we can raft a lot longer! A lot of rivers do not have dams or reservoirs that feed them as well. In that case the snowpack is the only thing feeding them. So, once the water runs out, rafting ends. That is why a good winter and late season snows are very important to rafting.

I mentioned not to slow. I am not trying to confuse you, but in 2019 those temps just were not going up. We are talking 30 degrees in June. This means we were not getting the melt off in time for people who had planned a rafting trip in May or June. Usually, that is a great time for rafting, but in 2019 we had to call an audible and raft well into September instead.

Importance of March snow

Spring snow is very important to rafting to make sure we have plenty of water for our rivers. Temperatures start to warm up and if we only see melting in March then we can be in trouble for a very short season.

In an ideal world, we would see a little bit of melting in March and April, but we would also see more snow come in. Then we would see a slow increase in the temperature in April May and June. Now, we know we cannot control mother nature, but this is what we keep our fingers crossed for. Of course, after an epic winter with tons of snow!

High snowpack

On the other side of things, if we get a very large amount of snow and the snowpack is well over average, sometimes rivers will shut down commercially due to water flows being too high!

Lining up the raft before hitting a rapid

They shutdown commercially for everyone’s safety! Going rafting at those high-water times, before they close obviously, is some of the best experiences and rafting though! More adrenaline and more fun!

If you are ever planning a rafting trip or such, you can always look up and take a peak at the snowpack in the area or from the winter before and see what time and area has what you seek!

How to plan for your rafting trip

Snow affects river levels and rafting a lot more than you would think, Next time you’re looking to plan a rafting trip or anything, or even just want to take a peek into, search up that snow pack for your area and see if there was a good winter and how those water levels are going to be, because most want that high adrenaline rafting trip, but also lower water is really good for the kids to float around too!

We know this is a lot of information, and with this information you can plan accordingly. If you are looking for a thrilling trip, it would most likely be at the end of May or June, but you have to check year by year. If you are looking for a more mild experience, then the end of July and August are usually going to be the right time for you.

With enough information spread we can get this knowledge out to everyone! Good winters equal good summers, and high-water levels.

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