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Making use of summer break: Whitewater rafting

Courtesy+of+Rapid+Images+Photography
Courtesy of Rapid Images Photography

Colorado is known for having a tourist industry that lasts the entire year. Between skiing, hiking and whitewater rafting, Colorado has a lot to offer for outdoor enthusiasts.

From an early age, my parents introduced me to whitewater rafting as well as other incredible outdoor activities. I went on my first backpacking trip when I was around 7 years old and have been outdoors my entire life.

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This love for the outdoors was one of the main reasons I decided to attend Colorado State University in the first place. One positive about being in college is that students get nearly three months off during the summer. This provides the perfect opportunity for students to broaden their horizons with travel, internships or other career opportunities.

For me, I knew the summer between my first and second years would be the perfect time to get a job in an outdoor industry before I needed to focus more on my future career by partaking in internships. I knew I wanted to become a whitewater rafting guide, and Colorado has some stunning whitewater to offer.

I decided to work in Idaho Springs, Colorado, on Clear Creek, which has arguably some of the most technical whitewater rafting in the United States. The narrow width of the creek and the constant fluctuation of the water level make for consistently interesting whitewater.

Following training — the longest month of my life, as I like to call it — I was officially checked out as a class-three whitewater guide. A lot of people told me that I was living the dream life, and for the most part, it really felt like that. I was able to wake up and not only go whitewater rafting but also get paid for it.

However, this job came with its difficulties and challenges. Clear Creek is purely snow melt, which means the water stays at around 35-40 degrees year-round. Along with the cold water, there’s a physical toll that guiding takes on your body.

Guides are constantly maneuvering and steering the raft through whitewater in order to ensure the safety of passengers in the raft. Rafts can also weigh anywhere between 100-400 pounds — not including the added weight of customers. The constant stress on muscles and joints can cause back problems and overall fatigue.

Rafting is also a dangerous job. Our entire line of work is focused on taking people down a stretch of whitewater that they could not otherwise do themselves. This frequently means taking people who have never been rafting and often don’t know how to swim.

“Whitewater raft guiding is not for the faint of heart, but the rewards are incredibly satisfying.”

The daily life of a guide is never dull. Each guide arrives 45 minutes prior to a trip start time, when guides then inflate the boats, prepare the gear necessary for the trip and review the boat breakdown to make sure everything is perfect for the trip. Despite all the preparation, however, trips almost never go according to plan.

There are frequently last-minute add-ons to the trip, which requires adding an extra guide to the trip. Some customers may even drop before the trip starts, which means removing a guide from the trip. Once the boats get put on the water, there is a lot that can go wrong.

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Customers can fall out of the boat, boats can flip or rafts can get stuck on rocks. With the constantly changing water, it is nearly impossible to go on a trip without something like that happening. However, it makes for a more interesting trip, and all the guides are well trained, making rescues quick and easy.

Eric Poling is the head boatman at Arkansas Valley Adventures, an outdoor adventure company in Idaho Springs.

“Whitewater has the ability to become really dangerous really quickly,” Poling said. “It’s important that all the guides are on the same page and are ready to respond to situations quickly and efficiently.”

Whitewater raft guiding is not for the faint of heart, but the rewards are incredibly satisfying.

“Rafting is great, honestly,” Poling said. “Being able to be on the water all day is the best feeling, and getting to take people who’ve never been (rafting) before is amazing.”

“At the end of the day, it’s about the customers and not yourself, but seeing those reactions makes it all worth it,” Poling said.

Reach Emma Askren at easkren@collegian.com or on Twitter @emma_askren

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About the Contributor
Emma Askren, Sports Editor
Emma Askren, alongside Damon Cook, is the fall 2023 sports editor for The Collegian. She began working at The Collegian during her first year in the fall of 2022, when she covered the swim and dive team as well as anything sports-related. She is currently a sophomore at Colorado State University, where she is majoring in journalism and media communication and double minoring in Spanish and sports management. During her first year, she joined the rowing team, began working as a reporter for The Collegian and working at the Student Recreation Center. Askren applied to CSU as a journalism major, knowing she wanted to combine her passion for sports and writing to create a fulfilling career. Upon realizing that Rocky Mountain Student Media was hiring for first-years, she jumped at the opportunity to become a writer for The Collegian. While working for the sports desk, Askren has had the opportunity to write about hockey, logging, whitewater rafting and the importance of women in sports. As a woman in a male-dominated industry, she seeks to break the status quo and become a successful sports journalist following graduation. Following a year as a sports reporter, Askren became a co-editor for the sports desk alongside Cook. Together the duo seeks to create a new and improved sports desk that caters to all readers of The Collegian and beyond.

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