Some locals might have concerns about the upcoming white water rafting season after a warm winter led to an exceptionally early thawing of the Kicking Horse River.
Glacier Raft Company owner and river guide Ryan Johannesen isn’t concerned, however, having seen similar winters to this one since arriving in Golden in 2002.
“We have some warm weather coming up next week so that might bring the river up a little bit…I’m not super concerned, we can’t predict or control the weather but it seems like the snowpack is there to provide some good rafting,” he said.
According to Johannesen, while the winter snow has long left the valley, the alpine has seen a fairly average snowpack and how the season plays out will depend on the weather from here.
“I’m getting asked (about that) all the time now, it really depends on the weather. If we get a lot of hard, warm rain in right off the bat or very hot weather, it brings a lot of what snow there is down very quick and very early,” he said.
If the rain comes later in the summer or if we get a heat wave in July or August, Johannesen explained, that can help sustain a solid year of rafting as well.
In fact, potentially lower water levels could be a good thing for the Kicking Horse’s renowned lower canyon, which was closed for much of the summer last year due to high water levels. The most intense portion of the typical trip on the river could be open for business much earlier in 2015, as it was in 2011, when companies were able to raft the lower canyon for the entire month of July.
“The last two or three years now we’ve kind of gotten down it in May or early June and then nothing until the beginning of August…and the lower’s got a pretty big reputation, people call in and say ‘hey, we want to do the lower’…people have heard about the lower just as much as they have the Kicking Horse,” Johannesen said.
Most rafting companies, including Glacier, are scheduled to open in time for Victoria Day weekend on May 16, but before that crews of guides are sent down the river for training runs, regardless of how much experience they might have on this river.
Training for returning guides involves getting multiple runs in on the river to check out conditions prior to opening day, as well as a run through of different scenarios and rescue practice.
“Due to the ice in the river each year, we do get subtle, and sometimes bigger, changes to the rapids every year…the high water flows and the ice flows have definitely changed some of the rapids over the years,” Johannesen explained.