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Andy Neinas gives rafting a new life in Cañon City

2019 CEO of the Year Finalist: Andy Neinas bought the longstanding Echo Canyon Rafting Expeditions in 2001


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Andy Neinas | Owner and "Troublemaker"

Echo Canyon Rafting Expeditions, Cañon City

2019 CEO of the Year Finalist

Andy Neinas, 50, bought the longstanding Arkansas River outfitter in 2001. “The story of Echo Canyon is equally the story of outfitting in Colorado,” he says. Founded in the late 1970s, the company “came into its own in the ’80s” along with the rafting industry as a whole.

By the early 2000s, the industry had matured and hit a steady 500,000 annual user-days in Colorado. About half of those commercial trips are on the Arkansas, where Echo Canyon has the largest market share: About one rafter in eight is on the company’s watercraft.

Neinas sees the state’s skiing business as a model. “Nobody does it in Colorado better than the ski industry,” he says. “We can definitely take a lot of cues and learn a lot of lessons from them.”

That means diversification beyond recreation alone: Echo Canyon has expanded from whitewater into dining and lodging with the 8 Mile Bar and Grill and luxury cabins and increasingly elaborate glamping tents. “Prior to that, we were a bit of a one-legged stool,” Neinas says. Ancillary revenue streams added stability to “insulate” the business from low-water years.

One example: Echo Canyon brought photography in-house with an innovative system that involves guides using remote-controlled GoPro cameras to get plenty of action shots and video. That’s turned into an industry-leading, six-figure business in four years.

The year-round staff is around 10, but that swells to 150 in peak summer season. Neinas says he strives to have several people capable of each job. “I believe in lateral integration,” he notes. “We get a lot of very talented people.”

Neinas says his job ultimately isn’t about selling whitewater or food or lodging; it’s about selling the state. “Everybody should know their unique proposition,” he notes. “Colorado is the unique proposition.”


This article is part of ColoradoBiz Magazine's annual CEO of the Year feature. Read more about this year's winner John Hayes and the other finalists: 

TIM CONNELLY | JANINE DAVIDSON | JOHN FISCHER | NEIL FISHER | RUSTY GREGORY  
HEATHER LAFFERTY | ROBERT THOMPSON | NANCY WHITEMAN

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Eric Peterson

Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer's Colorado, Frommer's Montana & Wyoming, Frommer's Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver's Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at Eptcb126@msn.com

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