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Raft guides required to have extensive training

Bobby Magill

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – When a rafter dies, it affects the entire river-running community. But rafting companies in the region say commercial rafting on the Colorado River is safe, and their rafting guides undergo rigorous training that exceeds state requirements before a guide can take out paying guests. Jason Hansen, 30, of Fort Collins, died April 15 while training in a raft in Glenwood Canyon near Shoshone. It was the first fatality of the rafting season in the canyon. The cause of death is still under investigation.”Our river is one of the safest rivers in the state, if not the U.S.,” said Ken Murphy, operations manager for Rock Gardens Rafting in Glenwood Springs. He said the Colorado River through Glenwood Canyon is unusually safe because of easy emergency access from the bike path that parallels the river. What’s more, he said, the river isn’t isolated, like other stretches of whitewater in Colorado that flow through some remote country. But most of all, he said, Colorado’s training requirements for rafting guides are first-rate, and many rafting companies exceed the minimum required training. State regulations require that all rafting guides complete a minimum of 50 hours of on-river training with a guide instructor, 20 of which must be on the same river on which the guide will be leading trips. “Our requirement is 75 (hours),” Murphy said. Rock Gardens makes its guides pay the full $400 for their three-week training course, and not everyone who takes the course will be hired. In its 32-year history, Rock Gardens has never had a fatality.Susi Larson, a manager for Whitewater Rafting in Glenwood Springs, said her company gives its guides nearly 100 hours of training before taking out clients. Since it started running rapids 33 years ago, Whitewater Rafting has had no fatalities, she said. “We don’t have a set amount (of training hours), just a real stringent test they have to take,” Larson said. To lessen the risk to customers in the springtime, Larson said her company only allows its most experienced guides to lead trips during periods of high runoff. Companies’ approach to rafting safety changes with multi-day rafting expeditions, like those that Grand Junction-based Adventure Bound offers. Company president Thomas James Kleinschnitz said Adventure Bound, which runs rafting trips in both Colorado and Utah, has to take its trips’ remoteness into account during staff training. “We may be hours away from any kind of advanced medical care,” which means advanced wilderness first aid training is necessary for his staff, who spend days on the river to earn their guide certifications. “The consequences of having an accident in the places we go are immense,” he said.Commercial rafting fatalities are rare in Colorado, especially on staff training expeditions. That’s also true in local sections of the Colorado River, Murphy said. “Terrible accidents happen, but it’s not common to this section of river, or this class of river,” he said. “I wouldn’t worry about going down the river with any company in the state because of the training programs.”Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado


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