Often when I take group of rafters down the river, the adventurous and curious will ask what it takes to be a raft guide.
Well first, you have to take vow of poverty. You won’t get rich by being a raft guide, but you will get to meet people from all over the world (the best part of the job) and take them down some of the best whitewater in the world!If you budget your time and money wisely, you can make ends meet, make many friends, and have a great time doing it.
This always leads to questions about guide training. From what I have seen evidenced on the water, I can honestly say that ACE has the best training program of all the outfitters in West Virginia. We typically have two training sessions, one begins in May and runs everyday, and the other begins in March and only runs on weekends until Memorial Day.
For people that have “real world” jobs and can’t take off for 3-4 weeks straight, the early spring weekend class is the best option. With the snow melt and winter storm runoffs, the first training session typically has high water and that makes for great training sessions!
For cold weather, the guides break out the wetsuits and polypro to stay warm. For the traveling weekend warrior, the down time during the week gives you time to reflect on all the information the trainers share and the experiences provide. There are also night class sessions on some Saturday nights on how to read whitewater, knot tying, and local history of the area that are very helpful.
A typical day on the river training would be with 6-8 trainees in a boat with one of our best senior guide trainers, sometimes paddling two training runs in one day.
As trainees’ skills increase, they are allowed to take on the more difficult rapids with the trainers sitting beside them giving instructions and often swimming right along with them when they make a mistake.
The State of West Virginia Department of Natural Resources requires a minimum of 18 training runs, but at the end of those, most guides will be advised to ride along with an experienced guide and continue their training with around 22-28 runs before their “checkout” run to see if the new guide can pass the test and safely take guests down the river.
My wife and I personally did the early session that began in March because it fit the best into our schedules. What was training in the early class like? Big water and cold at first, but the adrenalin spikes last for days.
We had snow the first 4 weekends-very different to see white on the sides of the river instead of green leaves, but as the spring progresses, it is actually very cool to see spring arriving a little more each weekend. Challenging, yes, but definitely worth it!
Think you have what it takes to be a guide?