Big snow will likely mean big water in 2019
Photo: John Ryan Lockman

Big snow will likely mean big water in 2019

Posted by: Katie Coakley

In looking at local snowpack and streamflow, all signs point to rockin’ water levels for the 2019 GoPro Mountain Games

By Shauna Farnell

As you may recall, last year water levels were so low that the iconic Steep Creek Kayak Championship usually held on the steep and narrow Homestake Creek had to be relocated to Dowd Chute and renamed, “Oh Chute.” For 2019, it’s a totally different story.

Considering the banner snow season and the fact that big snow typically becomes big water, hopefully all river and creek competitions at the 2019 GoPro Mountain Games can be prefaced with an, “Oh YEAH!”

“Low water, high water, or anything in-between, we can always host a wide variety of whitewater events at the GoPro Mountain Games, but in a year like this we love to see our mountaintops packed with snow, and our rivers running with a healthy runoff right during the heart of the event,” said Tom Boyd of the non-profit Vail Valley Foundation, which hosts the GoPro Mountain Games each year.

“There’s a chance we might have some exceptionally high runoff, in which case we will have to evaluate the safety of some of our whitewater events, but it will be a few more weeks before the variables settle in and we can make that kind of determination,” Boyd said. “Right now we are just glad to see all the whitecaps – both up in the high country and in our rivers, too.”

The Eagle River Water and Sanitation District keeps a close eye on Eagle County’s runoff, including Gore Creek and Homestake Creek, which host events each year during the GoPro Mountain Games.

“We have a lot more snow than last year. The only thing we’re sure of is that it’s coming downhill at some point,” says Eagle River Water & Sanitation District spokeswoman Diane Johnson. “Right now the conditions seem favorable for keeping the snow around long enough that we should have good runoff.”

The Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) and streamflow can change dramatically during this time of year, depending on additional precipitation and temperature fluctuation. In looking at the USDA SNOTEL graph from May 9, there were 15.2 inches of SWE at the Vail Mountain SNOTEL site compared to only 6.3 inches on the same date last year. Keep tabs on the updated SWE activity here. The Vail Mountain Site SWE numbers are indicative of Gore Creek, the Copper Mountain site is indicative of water activity on Vail Pass and the Fremont Pass site is indicative of the Eagle River.

Because of cold temperatures and additional snowfall in May, the streamflow charts are not yet representative of what things will look like for the Mountain Games, but thus far spring flows have steadily measured well over 100% of average. They are updated regularly here.

“We want it to be cool in April and May so we hold the snowpack up high and get the runoff later in May when we’re supposed to,” Johnson says. “Right now the conditions seem favorable for keeping the snow around long enough that we should have good runoff.”

Although many variables come into play as far as what happens to the snowpack and streamflow in the next few weeks leading up to the Games, which kick off June 6, the potential for big water looks promising, bringing a great big extra splash of excitement for both competitors and spectators.

“It was a great winter on the hill for riding and skiing and that should translate to some good whitewater in Gore Creek and the Eagle River,” Johnson says.

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