Spring, white water rafting and absent-minded teens in love are all just around the corner and, even though in Washington, our lust to ski has barely been whetted, it is not too soon to give some thought to hiring a river guide for your next corporate retreat, family vacation or youth group outing.
Websites, brochures, splashy advertisements and affiliations are - obviously - where you want to start looking, but, when it comes to river raft trips, do not overlook recommendations from friends, as well as the initial phone call gleaning valuable insight to the 'culture' of the outfit you are considering. Be aware of a few glaring no-nos you should never hear from the person on the other end of the line.
1.) Safety guarantees.
2.) Crowing about an immaculate safety record.
3.) Claiming they are 'the best' of anything.
First of all, moving water is inherently dangerous. It does not matter if it is the mildest float or the wildest ride - rivers come equipped with hazards. Consequently, there are no guarantees of safety. We like to say we minimize the hazards by maximizing our attention to safety, but, as has been pointed out for decades now, an inflatable raft is not on tracks or rails. Stuff can happen regardless of how good, attentive or well-trained of a guide you have hired.
The second precaution is closely related to the first, except, while it may very well be true, it indicates the river company's representative is blind to the fact that the past is the past. As well as being unfamiliar with the old adage, "There, but for the grace of a higher power, go I." An immaculate safety record speaks well of the company you are talking to for they are surely doing many things right, but they ought to recognize their good fortune.
As for the last precaution, laying claim to being the "best" indicates a lack of creativity or a braggart or someone akin to an unsavory used car salesman. They are hiding behind a word that does nothing to truly describe them, or whatever river trip it is they are selling. (My company was named Best River Rafting Outfitter in Washington 3 years running through King 5 Northwest Escapes, but this is essentially a beauty contest. Consumer Reports - or anything similar - has yet to do an issue on Washington state river outfitters.)
So, by all means, begin your quest in all the usual places, but, if you are unfamiliar with rafting and this is your first outing, place a phone call and conduct a bit of an interview with the company representative. Get a feel for how they will deal with you in person by how they deal with you over the phone. Quiz them about safety concerns. Ask them about their safety record.
In all fairness, Washington river outfitters are universally safety conscious. In general, Washington state river guides are conservative white water enthusiasts. There are, however, varying degrees of safety consciousness and different 'cultural' attitudes that may tip the scales one way or the other for you. So, now that Christmas is behind us, it's time to start planning your 2012 river trip - especially if you want to do a multi-day trip on the Deschutes or a combination trip on the Cascade Loop of stellar white water runs on the Wenatchee, Methow, Sauk or Skykomish.
The sooner you make your reservation - the more likely you can get the date or dates of your choice - and the more likelier you are to receive a better rate. In the meantime, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!