“It’ll be fun,” they said. And “they” were right about becoming a raft guide! After a winter of ski instructing at Crested Butte Mountain Resort, I knew I needed to continue working outdoors. I heard great things about employment at Three Rivers Resort. My experience in becoming a professional raft guide was exciting, educational, and a touch terrifying. I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. Growing up on the great Pend Oreille River in the Pacific Northwest, I was comfortable around water but had never in my life experienced swift, whitewater.
Raft Guide Training
On day one, we received our wet suits, booties, splash clothing, and PFDs (rafting in May can be chilly but all the gear is included!). After a morning of river safety intro and how the company operates, we were rowing boats down the Gunnison River! I remember being in a raft with lead instructor, Vito. He would direct you to go on one side of the river or a rock and then in the nick of time ask you to get to the other side of the river before hitting said rock. It really made you think about how the oars work and showcased what we were capable of. The remaining nine days became more challenging as we did rope work, swam in the frigid rivers, learned to flip boats over in the water and give paddling commands to passengers maneuvering the boats. Eventually we worked our way up to rowing the Lower Taylor and even paddle guiding the Upper Taylor whitewater.
This may sound strange, but some of the best days of my life were spent in guide training! I was the only female in the course in 2015 (the female to male ratio has changed in the recent years, nearly 50/50 now!). Yet, I felt very comfortable as a 20-year-old female stepping into the unknown. There were young college students in the course as well as ex-chemists looking for a change of pace. Most of us had zero rafting experience which was not a barrier. The experience of the guide instructors was comprehensive. They made sure to calm us when appropriate but they were also not gentle about the true dangers of the river. We were there to learn how to get paying customers down the river safely. I cannot say enough about the professionalism of the entire training program. It ensured we would be pros by the end of the course, or at least with additional support and practice!
If you are interested in becoming a certified river guide in the state of Colorado, there is no better training ground than with Three Rivers Outfitting in Almont, Colorado. The 2023 course is currently open for enrollment. There are more opportunities than ever for new guides to receive steady work and advance into higher positions in the future.
Michelle Clark is the Front Desk/Reservations Manager for Three Rivers Resort. She graduated from Western Colorado University in Gunnison and worked as a ski instructor for Crested Butte Mountain Resort. Michelle continues to raft guide as needed, while managing the Front Desk, Guest Reservations and the General Store at the resort.