The trainees are coming!

Oh boy, the fun’s on now!

Last weekend, 40 brand new guide wannabes showed up to train with ACE. This yearly event marks the unofficial opening of the rafting season. They pitch their tents in the snow. They show up at 8 a.m. when the temperature is around 25 degrees. We put them in wetsuits and take them out to the New River. Talk about dedication. They must really want to become river guides.

As always, this is a really diverse group. We have the usual assortment of kids just out of college. There are several “career change” types, older folks who are bored with their jobs in the real world. There are the “weekend warriors,” folks who love the river so much that they spend their weekends guiding rafts. This year we have two accountants, a police officer and a businessman who retired at age 40 and wants a second career.

I’ve spent much of the off-season interviewing and hiring these guys and girls. Unlike most outfitters who look for college kids who will work for peanuts, we look for people with interesting life experience. I honestly think this is a big reason for ACE’s success: our guides are really interesting and entertaining people and it’s fun to spend a day on the river with them.

For us senior guides who train the trainees, this time of year can get exciting. From day one, we let the “newbies” guide the training boat in all but the biggest rapids. Obviously, this makes for some very interesting runs – and often some very interesting swims! But, despite this, we zip up our drysuits, hold our breaths and hang on for the ride. Heroic, huh?

In the next two months, we’ll have these guys trained, checked out and ready to take innocent customers down the river. We’ll have taught them how to drive a boat but also lots of other things that will make them entertaining companions while on the river. They’ll know much about the fascinating history of the New River Gorge dating back to the earliest Native American occupation and running through to the coal mining era of the last century. They’ll know about the flora and fauna of the area. They’ll learn how the New River Gorge was created over millions of years and even why the world’s second oldest river is called the “New River.”

Have you ever wondered what it takes to be a whitewater raft guide? Have you ever wanted to be a guide yourself?

Check with this blog in the next couple of months as we’ll have the trainees describe their training in their own words. It should be fun.

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