STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Yampa River is still flowing high, fast and cold.
As of Thursday afternoon, the river was flowing at about 900 cubic feet per second through downtown Steamboat Springs, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The river is still at a level considered unsafe for tubing.
Commercial outfitters start renting tubes when the river falls below 700 cfs. The city recommends those tubing without using an outfitter follow the same guidelines.
The river has been steadily falling since the beginning of the month, and local outfitters are preparing to start tubing rentals, likely within the next 10 days.
Backdoor Sports owner Peter Van De Carr said he anticipated being able to offer a soft opening of tubing rentals at his shop in downtown Steamboat this weekend. Backdoor sent its last raft of the season downriver on Thursday.
He guessed that in a week to 10 days, Backdoor Sports would be in full swing renting tubes.
For now, Van De Carr said he and other outfitters will not allow young people and people who they do not feel are physically able to maneuver out of a rough spot in the river. Van De Carr said everyone should wear a life jacket on the water, particularly now, with flows still relatively high for tubing.
“If anybody wants to go around us, they certainly can, but we certainly really want people to be cautious of this early season,” he said of people who might elect to head downriver on a tube without using an outfitter.
While Backdoor Sports shifts from renting rafts to renting tubes, other outfitters are holding out until flows fall a bit more. Bucking Rainbow holds off a few more days once the river falls below 700 cfs.
“We typically wait until it comes down a little bit more before we start sending our guests out,” said owner John Duty said.
“When they first start, it’s usually pretty rough,” he added. “We wait until it becomes a little more family friendly.”
Duty said with the river coming down fast, that could happen sometime next week, though it’s totally dependent on flows. Bucking Rainbow hopes to continue to offer raft rentals through the end of August.
While it’s likely that tubing season will kick off soon, the river is still high.
“I can’t stress enough how important, especially when it’s still over 400 or 300 cfs, how important it is to wear a life jacket,” Van De Carr. “I’m seeing people out there now, and it just drives me crazy. My nightmare scenario is a 12-year-old sees a 20-something going down without a life jacket and thinks that’s appropriate, and the 12-year-old doesn’t have the physical strength and abilities to get out of a bad situation.”
The river typically falls to a level safe for tubing in June, meaning that this year has been a late start to the tubing season.
Van De Carr doesn’t mind.
“This year has been the most glorious, awesome year,” he said.
The high flows have allowed for many good raft rides. Though tubing is more profitable, Van De Carr believes rafting through Steamboat is the best way to show visitors the town.
“We probably took an economic hit,” he said. “Tubing is the McDonald’s of river running. But in terms of being able to show people the most quality experience you can have in Steamboat Springs, for over a month, we’ve had a solid month of taking people down in rafts.
“It’s been so great,” he continued. “We’re ecstatic. We’re so on top of the world.”