April brings in a hint of warmer weather, more daylight hours, and the sense of shedding the winter gear and looking toward spring activities. However, there is a period in Steamboat Springs where April showers bring more than just May flowers.
Until the mountain closes mid-April, Steamboat offers the opportunity to ski, kayak, or paddle board down the Yampa River, all in the same day. The Yampa River, beginning to charge with the spring flow as the snow slowly starts to melt, gives river runners the opportunity to test their kayak or paddle board skills in anticipation of the high water season.
Jake Castle, river enthusiast and General Manager with Hala Gear, a local company that designs and manufactures multiple lines of inflatable standup paddleboards, said that while the high water timing varies from season to season, typically the high water flow rolls mid-late May through mid-June.
Castle said that given the early spring conditions this year, the water level is set to rise at any time. “We kind of had that early bubble, but as our temperatures start to climb above freezing at night up in the mountains, you will see creeks run. Once creeks start to run, the River starts to come up,” said Castle.
Legend has it that Yampa River peaks when the snow on top of the part of the ski mountain known as Storm Peak melts and shows dirt. “Locals noticed that the River seems to be at its peak when the two trails on Storm Peak start to show dirt and when both of those dirt patches meet, you will see the River at its highest peak,” said Castle.
Castle said that in an average year the water gets to 4,000 cubic feet per second, making it difficult for paddle boarders and kayakers to pass under the bridges that cross the River. At that point, Castle recommends scouting out the River before putting in as the River can get dangerous. Castle said that for the early spring paddle boarders the River offers an opportunity to enjoy the River and practice for the bigger water of the season to come.
As the snow melts in the mountains giving a steady cadence to the River, the skiers and snowboarders still enjoy the spring skiing conditions, complete with warm days and bluebird skies. “I do enjoy spring skiing because most people have forgotten about winter. You can catch time on the mountain or in the backcountry and have the place to yourself,” said Drew Williams, a local skier.
Even though the ski mountain officially closes on April 16th, plenty of backcountry skiing and snowboarding options exist to extend the ski season. “Well after the mountain closes there is still the opportunity to get great snow some years. Last year a few buddies and I skinned up and got over a foot of fresh powder after the mountain closed,” said Williams.
While winter and spring activities can overlap until Mother Nature says otherwise, April serves notice that it is time to think about changing out the gear in the garage.