31 May 2011

Colorado River Basin High Water

When they say the high water in the Colorado River basin this year will exceed that of 1983, it makes river runners pay attention. Guides who experienced Colorado River rafting in the mid- 1980's know big water. A number of factors come into play every time high water rolls through the canyons of Utah and Arizona, and it appears the same factors are at play this year. By February there was speculation, but so much still had to play out just right. The wet spring, and lower temperatures have kept the snowpack in the mountains late into the spring. Now we wait and see how fast it will all come down.

The Grand Canyon, with flows regulated by Glen Canyon Dam, will likely not see the high flows like in '83 because the Dam folks know what not to this time. But Mother Nature will do what she wants upstream of that dam. Cataract Canyon is the place for high water Colorado River rafting.

There's no better way to experience the power and magnificence of an untamed river than from the relative safety and security of a large J-Rig, patented by Western River Expeditions and named after its founder Jack Curry. Designed specifically for high water, rafting guides agree there is not anything quite like a J-Rig to flex over and punch through strong rapids.

16 January 2009

2009 Travel Trends

What does 2009 hold for whitewater rafting and the adventure travel industry? It depends on what the adventure is. 2008 provided a roller-coaster ride for the entire nation as we saw outrageous gas prices, the real estate market crash and finally the entire collapse of the financial industry and economy in general.

The direct affect of the economy has not fully hit the rafting industry as of yet. 2009 will be a historic year, and nobody can predict what will happen this season. Since most of the economic collapse happened towards the end of the rafting season last year, most outfitters fared "OK". Everyone took hits with the gas crises, but avoided the major collapse of the market.

Although studies have shown that "vacations" are often one of the last items people cut in their personal budgets, it is beginning to be evident that vacations are not immune to the market downturn.

Advanced bookings are slightly down across the board, and cancellations are statistically higher than usual, as those who booked far in advance are realizing the "extra" vacation cash needs to pay off bills.

That being said, summer vacations and adventure travel will still be a hot ticket on people's itinerary for 2009. One positive that local outfitters may see is that residents will cut back on traveling to distant locations, and try to find fund and relaxation closer to home. Local marketing and local advertising will be important factors for staying above water (no pun intended).

I predict that whitewater rafting will stay strong for those who realize that you will have to spend money to make money. In an economy where businesses are cutting costs, many have the opportunity to rise above the competition as many scale down marketing efforts.

As far as water levels, rivers and geographic issues, it looks like there is still plenty of snowpack and storms to come that should not be an issue for most parts of the nation.

As usual, we will see how things play out...

23 December 2008

Maritime Laws Don't Govern River Rafting

At least in West Virginia.

The West Virginia state Supreme Court says federal maritime laws don’t govern activities involving West Virginia’s whitewater rafting industry. This stems from an accident on the Shenandoah River a few years ago, in which a party sued the rafting company for a mishap on the river.

This court decision could mean big things for the whitewater rafting industry int he US. This now sets the precedence for any future lawsuits against river rafting outfitters. Although all outfitters are required to be licensed and carry liability insurance, lawsuits stemming from death and/injury on the river still exist.

Hopefully this will add a bit more cover for the river rafting outfitters, who already do all they can to keep the guests safe and follow best practices when it comes to risk management and safety regulations.

10 November 2008

Augusta Trying for Rafting Park

Augusta, GA wants to push for their own whitewater rafting park as rafting travel picks up popularity across the U.S. Augusta city is joining the hoards of towns and cities we've already mentioned with plans to utilize canals, river and streams to turn around whitewater rafting parks.

The USNWC (US National Whitewater Center) seems to be holding ground currently, but is is a large center aimed at not only the local market, but professional paddlers and competitions. The verdict is yet to be determined as all the other areas across the nation try to tap into the popular sport. More updates as they open, and we will see where whitewater parks stand in a few years.

28 October 2008

Gauley Rafting Season Winds down

The 22-day Gauley Rafting season has winded down, and once again it has brought in close to $45 million to West Virginia and the outfitters. Although numbers have been on the decline since 2000, the last year have seen a slowing in the decline.

Hopefully that trend will at least hold steady. For many of the outfitters, Gauley river rafting makes or breaks the season. Amazing that in a matter of days, your season can be up or down. But when you can charge a premium (around $145 for a half-day trip) for some of the most exciting whitewater rafting in the world, it has the potential for making a lot of money.

The exact numbers are not in yet, but I will report some of them as soon as I get me hands on the info. It will also be interesting to see how some of the larger companies fare with all the mergers and consolidation in the West Virginia rafting industry.

21 August 2008

Grand Canyon Flooding

Clarification- the Grand Canyon did not flood.

The recent flash flood in the Grand Canyon has news agencies (surprise) reporting that the Grand Canyon was flooding. In actuality, a side canyon, Havasu got flash flooded by an earth dam that broke from the flash rain storms in the area.

Grand Canyon rafting trips were in the canyon at the time, and the only rafting trip affected by the flooding was a private boat trip that lost their rafts that were parked at the mouth of the flooded canyon. Western River Expeditions saw the raft without rafters and reported the incident to the park service.

All of the evacuations and emergency helicopter transfers related to the incident were the local tribe resident who lived along the Havasu Canyon and whose homes were threatened by the flash flood.


Hope that clears some of the questions up, and if you have any more, feel free to comment on this post and I can answer any of your inquiries!

22 July 2008

Outdoor Sports moving Indoors?

Along the same note of my last whitewater rafting park in KY post, I ran across another article recently, supporting the concept that many of the adventure sports will find counterparts in an indoor/manmade arena.

Jeff Coy on Hospitality.net brought in some interesting point regarding the growing trend of man-made adventure sports. Rafting parks, surf pools and hotel water parks are all the examples he brought to the table. I agree with the emerging trend, and to a degree I personally would like to try the surf pools and surfing wave walls.

However, Coy also says that "sporting enthusiasts say it is hard to get away from work at the right time. It is difficult and expensive to travel to the coast when the perfect ocean wave is breaking or reach the backwoods when the whitewater river is cresting..."

I see these indoor arenas and play areas as a complimentary service within the same industry, and not really a competative force with the true outdoor sport. You will never be able to compare a man-made rafting course with a Grand Canyon rafting trip, or the rush of huge whitewater on the Gauley River. And I don't think any of these "enthusiasts" are looking to replace the real experience with these indoor ones.

The trend of shorter vacations is real. So people looking for a real outdoor rafting trip will look for a 2 or 3 day trip, not a 6 or 7 day trip. The same hold true for skiing. An indoor ski slope acts as a great bunny hill. Man-made ski material in Europe allows skiier to practice even during the summer. But don't think for a second that they will fore-go the mountain slope for a dinky indoor arena.

So it becomes more a matter of vacation time, and less about indoor versus outdoor. Outdoor adventure providers should shift some of their inventory to reflect that of the short-vacation trends, but also support the introduction of the indoor arena, as that may be exactly what the outdoor industry needs; a good introduction to the real deal.

KY Whitewater Park In the Works

WKYT 27 reported recently that officials are considering a whitewater park at the Kentucky-Virginia lines in hopes to boost tourism in the state. Right now, Kentucky is basically void of any decent "river rafting" option (as is the case with most of the Midwest), so this may provide an opportunity for not only the Kentucky residents, but neighboring states as well.

I assume that would be the main focus when officials say "tourism", because I doubt visitors would make a special trip to Kentucky just for a whitewater rafting park. Plus, you have the US national whitewater center down in NC, and a few others across the East.

I would venture to say the most business would still be the local market (at least for the near future). When I was talking to one of the Marketing Directors at the USNWC a couple years ago when they first opened, he told us that their visitors and target market were Charlotte and Atlanta, both legitimate population centers nearest the center.

So a tourism boost? Possible, but the more realistic expectation would be to give the locals of KY and VA something to do.