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Hefty Mountain Snowpack Foretells 'Epic' Whitewater Season


April is the traditional start of the whitewater rafting season. The hefty snowpack in the mountains this year is good news for commercial rafting companies and recreational enthusiasts across the West.

Oregon Whitewater Association President Scott Ogren of Portland has already been out on several Northwest rivers. He rates it an "epic spring" with more to come.

"Every indication is that we're going to have a good, long, very fun whitewater season this year,” Ogren said.

Ogren said it's possible to have too much of a good thing. Very high flows can make rapids unsafe. Parts of the Spokane River are closed right now. But on balance, Ogren said full reservoirs and this winter's generous snowpack mean a lot of rivers that aren't runnable normally can be floated this year. It probably means an extended whitewater season too.

"If there is a big rock in the middle of a river, then you can get enough water to go over the top of it and it will all smooth out," Ogren explained. "If the rapid is caused by a constriction in the river, then the more water there is, the bigger that rapid gets. There are a couple of rapids like that in the Northwest that will close off a river if there is too much water."

The current water content in the Cascade Mountain snowpack is well above average from Canada to northern California. Runoff typically peaks in May to early June.

Commercial rafting companies typically begin running whitewater trips in April on popular Northwest rivers such as the Wenatchee River in north central Washington, White Salmon River in the Columbia Gorge and Deschutes River in central Oregon. ?

Leavenworth, Washington-based Blue Sky Outfitters has placed online ads touting "the Most Exciting Waves in Years!"

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.