Residents of this region often refer to the local river as “the mighty San Miguel” and this year, thanks to an enormous snowpack and a wet spring, it really is.
After last year’s barely-a-trickle runoff, local shops ran a handful of tours and then packed it away for much of the summer season. This year is a much different story, and for those who love to play on the water, it’s a welcome bonanza.
According to snowpack.water-data.com, as of June 14, the snowpack is 948.97 percent of the average for that day. Compare that robust figure to the same date for last year when it was 0.134 percent. As measured at the Placerville station, current streamflow is 1440 cubic feet per second (CFS).
For local rafting and stand up paddle board (SUP) enthusiasts, it’s welcome news.
“We’re anticipating a longer season,” said Jagged Edge’s David MacMillan. “Right now we’re at about half what the San Miguel will be.” He added that it should flow as high as about 2000 CFS.
“This is the best level for boating,” MacMillan said. “It’s not so high it’s getting pushy and it’s covering the rocks nicely.”
His rafting excursion on the Dolores River Memorial Day weekend was a pleasant surprise.
“It’s a huge difference over last year,” he said. “Things were flowing at a time that no one would have put money on.”
Releases from the McPhee Reservoir, he said, made the river a fun ride.
River veterans like MacMillan are not the only ones in the water. Sporting-goods supplier Jagged Edge has seen a rise in the sales of personal flotation devices and other boating accessories. Sales and rental of SUPs is also up.
“The cooler weather has kept the snowpack intact,” MacMillan said. “It’s there for us to enjoy.”
Johnny Lombino is the founder and owner of SOL Paddle Boards. Favorable conditions on the rivers is stoking interest in SUP-ing, he said, though the trend has been ratcheting up steadily since his company was founded in 2011.
“What we’ve seen in the last five years is remarkable,” he said. “We’ve seen growth not only among locals, but tourists, too.”
The sport, he said, is appealing because “everyone can do it. From never-evers to senior citizens, all ages can SUP.”
The stability of the SUPs means kids and dogs can ride along; even yoginis can work on their balance and core strength aboard a SUP.
The inflatable SUP can be taken not only on local rivers, but carried in a backpack to the high country, where pristine bodies of water — very cold water — await SUP enthusiasts. Paddlers can be found on Silver Lake, Blue Lake and Lake Hope, he said.
Like any sport, Lombino strongly recommends getting lessons before putting in. “It’s just like you’d do if you’d never skied before,” he said. “You’d get a lesson.”
Lombino said Jagged Edge offers a Tuesday night SUP Club at 5:30 p.m. that educates paddlers about river safety, recommended gear and how to navigate the river.
Local shops offer guided trips for all ability levels and ages. Bootdoctors offers half- and full-day trips, and more (phone 970-728-8954 for more information). Telluride Outside has numerous trips available on not only the San Miguel, but also the Dolores River in a number of different stretches (for additional info. and reservations, call 970-728-3895). Mild to Wild stays busy all summer, too, with a host of river trip options (contact them at 970-247-4789).
River enthusiasts recommend paddling with friends, or a guide, or both. “Never go above your ability,” Lombino said.
Signs have been posted along the San Miguel River running through Telluride town limits advising would-be boaters and paddlers to stay out of the water. Lombino said the river is “pretty tricky” in that stretch and strongly advised putting in anywhere from Shandoka or other points along the river west of town on the Valley Floor. A float from there to Society Turn is a popular run for after-work river-lovers.
The bottom line, experts say, is to enjoy the river but be safe.
“Be careful out there,” MacMillan said. “The water is cold and fast.”