“Are you wearing plastic bags on your feet?
This was just one of the strange questions you might have heard if you were eavesdropping on the first days of raft guide training. Before braving freezing temperatures, trainees had to make sure they were well-equipped with the right clothing, including wetsuits and insulating layers. Keeping feet and hands dry was a much more challenging endeavor, involving experiments with plastic bags, dishwashing gloves, hand warmers, neoprene booties and many, many pairs of wool socks.
Once outfitted, it was out to the river for some immediate hands-on training. The first obstacles involved 115-pound rafts and a long slope of waist-deep snow between us and the water, but after much shoving and tumbling, staff and boats were all successfully on the river. We practiced paddle strokes and then took turns guiding down the Fife Brook section of the Deerfield River, finding paths through rapids with names like Pinball, Miami Beach and Krutiak (affectionately nicknamed the “Devil’s Armpit of Terror” to add some excitement). Then it was on to the Zoar Gap for some real adventure. Afternoon involved repeated Gap runs, with the trainees taking turns guiding their boats through the Class III rapids. After each run, we’d carry the boats up the snowy hill and drive them up above the Gap to relaunch and try again.
The following weekend, things became (if possible) even more exciting. With the water running at almost 4000 cubic feet per second, it seemed to be a whole different river: boulders became nothing more than giant waves, and “shore” moved into the forest. With these new challenges, we practiced rescue scenarios, setting up simulations and enacting simple – or elaborate – rescues with throw ropes, rafts, and ingenuity. We came together as a team.
This month, we learned that plastic bags won’t necessarily keep feet dry, wetsuits work to keep you warm in both water and snow, and it’s easier to turn the boat when the paddle’s in the water. We learned the technical skills we’ll need to be your amazing guides. Most of all, we learned that nothing bonds a group like flipping a raft in 35° water. It’s been an amazing month, and we know it’ll be an amazing season.
WGGB came out to spend a day with us and took some great footage of our training. Take a look!