Blue Sky Adventures Canyon Bikes

Guide Training

It was raining, sleeting, and snowing all at once in Glenwood Canyon at 9:00 AM on a Tuesday morning in early May. Green was lightly edging the cottonwoods and willows along the banks of the Colorado River, but the weather hadn’t fully committed to Spring.

Despite the chilly temperature and ominous clouds, as the Blue Sky vans pulled up to the Shoshone Rapids put-in, the energy of its occupants was high, and three blue boats were hustled efficiently down the ramp to rest in an eddy above the rushing water. Seven eager individuals piled into each raft and held paddles at the ready, despite a sudden squall of sideways wind and splash of freezing water. With an enthusiastic call for ‘All Forward!,’ the trip was off.

It was Day Two of guide training for Blue Sky Adventures, and no one was complaining…yet.

Every spring, as most of its customers are just starting to imagine their possible summer vacation itineraries, Blue Sky Adventures is training the newest class of whitewater guides. For approximately two weeks, rookies spend hours floating the Colorado and Roaring Fork Rivers gaining instruction from many of the company’s veteran guides and a few local river legends.

As they build up their strength on the oars, they are learning to ‘read the river,’ looking for hazards and practicing how to navigate a safe and fun path. Things like lateral waves (waves that come from a diagonal angle), holes (large waves that recirculate), strainers (partially submerged hazards which can pin a boat or swimmer) and sleepers (rocks hidden below the water yet not deep enough to float over) are identified and discussed.

There is also training devoted to how to accurately throw a ‘throwbag’ to rescue a swimmer, and even flip practice! Not that flips happen often on our homestretch of water, but it is important for everyone to know what to do in the event of an emergency, and so boats full of trainees are tipped over into the freezing water where they have to scramble back onto the upside-down raft, flip it right-side up, and climb back in. For many of these more advanced skills, Blue Sky Adventures contracts with a certified Swift Water Rescue Technician.

It was Day Two of Guide Training for Blue Sky Adventures, and No One was Complaining...Yet.

To attain a whitewater guide certification, the State of Colorado, through the National Forest Service, requires commercial companies to provide new guides with at least 50 hours of direct instruction on the water. Along with that considerable chunk of time, all guides must maintain current CPR and first aid certifications.

And wouldn’t you know, they have to get all of this done before the busy season, which means the weather can be slightly less than desirable. So for approximately two weeks, the hopefuls don their best optimistic attitude, warm layers and splash pants and get it done!

Along with these training trips, which focus on the technical skills, Blue Sky brings in experts on the local river ecology and geology from a non-profit called the Roaring Fork Conservancy. Instructors have also been known to share some of their favorite ‘false history’ stories and jokes about the canyon to pass the time and offer some cheeky fun for future guests.

After the training hours are complete, all would-be guides still have one hurdle to pass: the check-out run.

On both the milder downstream section from Grizzly Creek and the wilder rapids section of Shoshone, guide hopefuls must successfully complete a full run with guests and an instructor on board. Many guides choose to take extra ‘laps’ of practice with their peers as paddlers before signing up for their check-out.

The check-out run is the deciding factor for whether a new guide can captain their own boat on the river, and instructors hold them to some very high standards. Because water levels can vary tremendously from ‘high water’ in the early season, to the lower flows of July and August, sometimes guides are even asked to demonstrate their proficiency more than once.

Once the check-out is complete, rookies eagerly await their first trip, and work hard to bring their best skills, stories and sense of humor to a new season as part of Blue Sky’s professional, but quirky, family. There is never a dull day on the river!

Blue Sky Adventures values its incredible safety record and reputation for being the best commercial whitewater company in Glenwood Springs, so naturally all our guides must be at the top of their game.

If you are thinking about joining us again on the river this summer, or want to know more about what it takes to become a guide on the Colorado River, please contact us at 877.945.6605 or [email protected]


Happy Boating!