Kremmling Chamber of the Month Colorado River Runs

Joe Kelso, owner of Colorado Runs, (back) guides a family on the scenic Colorado River. The rafting business is located in Radium.
Joe Kelso, owner of Colorado Runs, (back) guides a family on the scenic Colorado River. The rafting business is located in Radium.

Joe Kelso is the sole owner and operator of Colorado River Runs also known as CRR. CRR is the only locally owned rafting outfitter on the Upper Colorado. The company is based out of Radium, population 6.

Joe hails from Pennsylvania and he graduated from Penn State with a degree in Finance. In 1970, many of his college friends were migrating from the East Coast to the West, and Joe found himself following suit. So, I asked Joe, how does somebody from Penn State with a Finance degree end up in Radium owning a Whitewater rafting company?

Joe said that he had a few jobs when he first moved to Colorado working for the Census Bureau and some other statistical type of jobs, but then his friends talked him into partnering together on a raft with them. It turns out the other partners didn’t end up using the Army surplus raft very much, and Joe did. Joe started rafting and many of his friends wanted to raft with him. Back then, there was hardly any whitewater rafting industry available in Colorado.

Joe comments that there were maybe 10 rafting companies where nowadays there are 200-250 state wide.

The popularity of rafting gave Joe an idea and his first commercial trip was from Radium to State Bridge in the summer of 1973. He comments that Pumphouse was there, but it was still being used as a pumphouse and it was hard to access. Radium was much easier. Joe looked for property, and was able to acquire a piece of property in Radium which Colorado River Runs is situated on. By 1985 Joe had built the business up to 25 employees and he was operating trips out of Buena Vista, Glenwood Springs, Radium and Eagle. He had 20 guides that he had trained, and 5 support staff on his crew.

Joe states that it is essential to find good, responsible guides that have a natural ability and can keep their head on straight in difficult situations. He believes that to be a great guide you should love the outdoors and river. He states that “a lot of the rafting companies hire guides right out of high school and college, but sometimes those guides are not equipped to handle difficult situations.” So far, CRR can boast no accidents on the river due to their training of qualified guides. Joe says that for 20 years CRR was operating as a big business and then business started dropping off. Currently Joe is the only guide but has additional help on the weekends and holidays when things are busier.

He likes the current state of the business because he can really bond with his customers. CRR is unique as it is now one of the smallest rafting companies in Colorado. Joe is very selective about how many people they book for each trip. Joe states that his favorite thing about the Radium location is doing business on the Upper Colorado. “It’s a great stretch of river, way back in the mountains, that allows people to get away from it all and experience the scenic vistas.

Many other rafting companies are based off of the I-70 corridor.” When he’s not rafting, Joe likes to run. He also owns 2 dogs and 2 donkeys. His location in Radium is very old and historical. He keeps himself busy with upkeep of the property which includes an old school house, and an old ranch house. So with forty plus years of experience, Joe is doing exactly what he loves to do and his business is exactly where he wants it to be. He states that the Upper Colorado has always been his favorite trip and his busiest location. Next time you find yourself driving down the Trough Road, stop in at Radium and say hi to Joe at Colorado River Runs.