HOW TO BECOME A WHITEWATER RAFTING GUIDE
No Experience Necessary | We Provide All Required Training
Learn how to become a whitewater rafting guide. Rafting guide jobs in Colorado are a great way to live and work in the outdoors and form lifelong friendships. Please read through all of the information carefully before applying, and do not hesitate to contact us if you have questions.
We are currently accepting guide applications for our 2024 river season. Applications for 2024 will be accepted through mid-February 2024. Your chances of being accepted onto an interview trip are greater if you apply before mid-January.
Thank you for considering Wilderness Aware as your company of choice in your pursuit of becoming a white water rafting guide! Please study our website to see if the types of trips we offer match your interests and physical abilities.
What we look for in guides: We hire quick learning, detail oriented, creative, friendly, and hardworking individuals. Our clientele expects the best raft trip in Colorado and you need to deliver. You should be prepared to be a team player, work to exceed our guests’ expectations, and to help maintain the highest quality rafting equipment made. Also, you must be willing to learn to pack and prepare fresh, multiple course meals. Having twice been named Colorado’s ‘Company of the Year’, as well as being a winner of the BBB’s ‘Excellence in Customer Service’ award, we believe we are running the best river trips in the country. A quality professional guide staff is the key ingredient in providing quality whitewater adventures.
Our Hiring Process Involves Five Steps:
Please read through each of the steps thoroughly before continuing to the application page.
- Phone Interview
- Interview River Trip
- Guide Training Course
The first step in the process of becoming a river guide is your application. Please remember that you are applying for a professional position and complete your application accordingly.
Before you apply please consider the physical demands of guiding. You will be responsible for performing rescues, swimming in cold, turbulent water and leading all skill levels through challenging rapids.
Guides will be enrolled in our pre-employment drug testing program, and may be selected for random drug-testing throughout the season.
Applicants that have worked as a whitewater guide on class III or higher should read our Information for Experienced Guides page as well as this page.
When to apply: Applications will be accepted between August and February, however we often have filled our interview trips by early February. We begin processing applications in early November.
2. Phone Interview
The second step in the process of becoming a river guide is a phone interview. After evaluating your application, we will contact prime candidates and ask that you call to conduct a phone interview. This can take between 5 to 20 minutes. During this phone interview, we will ask you a series of questions based on the answers you gave on your application. The phone interview step is important to our process as we will offer our top candidates limited positions for the next step, the interview river trip.
When phone interviews take place: Between December and February, phone interviews will be scheduled for specific dates and times. You will be responsible for calling us and allocating adequate time for your interview.
3. Interview River Trip:
The third step in the process of becoming a river guide with Wilderness Aware is to commit to joining us on one of our pre-scheduled 5-day interview river trips on the Salt River in Arizona. This is a self-contained, continuous river trip, covering 53 river miles with five nights of primitive camping. The Salt River Canyon is a class III-IV wilderness trip traveling through Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. During the interview trip, experienced guides will demonstrate the camping and rafting techniques we use on our trips. You will then take your turn at camp chores and guiding the boats. This five-day interview gives us a chance to see you in the environment that you will be working and gives you a chance to see if Wilderness Aware is the right company for you
Within this step of our guide hiring process, there are some action steps you must take:
DECIDE ON A TRIP: On the application, you will be asked to select a date for a five-day interview trip. You can select one date for which you are available, or you can select first, second or third (if available) choices if you are available for more than one date. You must be willing to commit to one of our pre-scheduled interview trip dates. We run the interview trips on the Salt River in central Arizona.
Dates for 2023 are as follows:
- Trip A: Saturday, March 4th – Thursday, March 9th
- Trip B: Saturday, March 11th – Thursday, March 16th
- Trip C: Saturday, March 18th – Thursday, March 23rd
- Trip D: Saturday, March 25th – Thursday, March 30th
SECURE YOUR SPOT: Once you are invited to attend an interview trip and feel you can commit to one of the above trips, you must secure your spot with payment. The cost of the trip is $400 – you can mail a check or money order or call with a credit or debit card. Your spot is not confirmed until we receive payment. Once you are invited and have paid for the trip, there will be a $20 fee for any cancellations if we are able to find a replacement for the spot you are vacating on the interview trip. If we are not able to find a replacement, there will be no refund issued.
GET TO ARIZONA: Transportation to Arizona is your responsibility. Interviewees must fly into Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport or drive to Globe, AZ. Prior to departure we will provide you with a list of the participants for your trip. We encourage you to contact each other and arrange ride sharing if you are considering driving to Arizona.
WHAT WE PROVIDE: We provide all rafting equipment including Coast Guard approved PFDs and helmets. Included are fresh meals from breakfast on the first rafting day (Sunday) through lunch on the last day (Thursday). Lemonade and water are included with every meal.
WHAT TO BRING: For a complete and detailed packing list specific to the guide interview trip, please click here.
GET HOME FROM ARIZONA: We will return you to the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport area no later than 6:00 PM on the following Thursday night. We recommend that you plan to fly out of Phoenix no earlier than 7:00 PM on Thursday. You are responsible for you own accommodations Thursday night if you decide to fly out on Friday.
4. Guide Training Course
The fourth step in the process of becoming a river guide with Wilderness Aware is our guide training course.
After completing your interview trip, we will evaluate your performance and decide if we would like to extend you an invitation to join us in Colorado for our guide training course. You will be notified no later than the first week of April. All candidates that complete this course are GUARANTEED A JOB.
Our three week guide training course will be held at our office in Buena Vista, CO starting Sunday, May 14th, 2023.
Our guide training course is free to those who are invited. We will provide you with all the rafts and rafting gear and most meals throughout the course. The value of this training course is approximately $2000.
You are responsible for your personal gear. Feel free to contact us with any questions regarding any of the following items. Also note that you can wait until your arrival in Buena Vista to purchase any of these items, in order to get helpful feedback from managers and guides.
- Type III or V PFD that fits you properly
- River knife
- Waterproof overnight bag
- Flip line (two locking carabineers and 10-12 ft of webbing)
- Adequate cold water rafting apparel, including but not limited to: wetsuit, splash or dry top, fleece layers and shoe/sandals appropriate for rafting
CPR AND FIRST AID: The State of Colorado requires you to obtain Standard First Aid and CPR Certification before you can begin working at the conclusion of the guide training course. If you want to be a river guide in Colorado we suggest that you enroll in a First Aid and CPR class not if you are not currently certified.
INSURANCE: It is important to note that you are not an employee of Wilderness Aware until you have completed the guide training course. You will not be covered under Wilderness Aware’s worker’s compensation insurance until you are an employee. We encourage you to provide your own health insurance for the duration of the training course and throughout the summer season.
The final step in the process of becoming a river guide with Wilderness Aware is hiring. Upon completion of our guide training course, you will be a full time employee of Wilderness Aware.
As a guide, you will have many responsibilities that come with position. Please read our job description, pay/benefits, schedule, housing and drug policy tabs located along the top of this page.
JOB DESCRIPTION: Serve as whitewater-rafting guides on both paddle and oar rafts. Guides will run primarily ½-day, full-day and multi-day whitewater rafting trips on the Arkansas River and may be rotated onto occasional multi-day trips on some of the other rivers that we run. Guide’s primary responsibility is to safely entertain our guests, seeking to provide the best possible vacation experience. Guides are members of a dynamic high-quality company which emphasizes quality, customer service, and teamwork.
LEARN MORE! We highly recommend you watch this video prior to applying/attending an interview trip to learn more about how rivers work.
All River Guides Must:
- Be at least 18 years old.
- Have current 1st Aid and CPR cards.
- Be physically fit.
- Be available to work a minimum of two summer seasons.
- Attend our annual training clinic and pre-train on every river.
- Live in Buena Vista, CO for the summer.
- Have a cell phone (note that as of 2019 Sprint and T-Mobile have very limited service in the area, Verizon and AT&T work the best).
- Have a professional attitude.
- Work long hours and not be subject to burnout and moodiness.
- Work well under pressure.
- Be a team player.
- Purchase an approved PFD, a river knife, three locking carabiners, a whistle, an overnight river bag, and a wetsuit or equivalent.
- Be willing to live out of a tent or vehicle for periods of time, and travel at odd hours.
GUIDE DUTIES & RESPONSIBILITIES:
- Runs ¼ to 1-day trips on the Arkansas River. Captains both paddle and oar boats (majority of our business is paddleboats). Performs lead and sweep boat duties as assigned. Majority of trips will be on the Arkansas River.
- Runs occasional trips on Dolores, Gunnison, North Platte, Upper Colorado rivers.
- Performs occasional safety boat responsibilities.
- Shops for and packs all trip food.
- Cleans guide area, refrigerators, break room and kitchen.
- Packs equipment, unpacks, cleans, and puts away all trip gear after trip. Stacks and ties down boats.
- Washes and hangs out trip rental gear and lifejackets.
- Puts away all dry gear each morning (i.e., wetsuits, booties, ponchos, lifejackets etc.).
- Expects to be given and completes assigned tasks while waiting for guests to arrive for trips.
- Fits lifejackets, wetsuits and other rental gear for guests.
- Informs management of food and equipment resupply needs.
- Repairs or replaces equipment damaged or lost due to gross negligence that was specific guide’s responsibility.
- Completes and turns in incident and accident reports when necessary immediately following the incident or accident.
- Sees that post trip meetings address any issues from the day.
- Completes all camp chores on multi-day trips. Cooks meals, does dishes, leads hikes, rigs boats, etc.
- Looks for ways to better serve the guest and the company, brings new ideas to management if it involves policy change.
- Maintains a good sense of humor and cooperative attitude in dealing with co-workers and guests.
- Communicates well with head trainer, owners, managers and co-workers. Is expected to behave in a professional manner at all times.
- Learns about natural environment and human history of area and shares knowledge with guests.
- Treats guests in a manner that makes them feel respected, valued, liked and cared for.
- Performs other responsibilities as assigned.
TRIP LEADER DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES:
- Acts as trainer for new guides – Participates in all training activities.
- Conducts river orientations and distributes guests into boats.
- Determines exact equipment needs for trip and selects menus for multi-day trips.
- Sets meeting time to rig multi-day trips and communicates that to guides at least 24 hrs in advance.
- Ensures that the trip leader reports are accurate and complete.
- Coordinates the duties of guides on the trip and initiates post trip meetings. Does not micro-manage.
- In the event of an accident, takes full charge of scene or delegates that duty if necessary.
- Makes the final call on minor decisions in the event that a consensus cannot be quickly reached.
- Brings issues that cannot be quickly resolved to the attention of the Operations Manager.
PERFORMANCE STANDARDS: Evaluated on thoroughness in performing duties, attitude, punctuality, dependability, ability to operate as a team player, initiative, mature judgment, relationships with co-workers, management and guests, flexibility, and willingness to learn.
REPORTING RELATIONSHIP: Reports to the Operations Manager.
1st year base pay: $120/day
2nd year base pay: $125/day
3rd year base pay: $130/day
4th year base pay: $135/day
5th year base pay: $140/day
6th year base pay: $145/day
7th year base pay: $150/day
8th year base pay: $155/day
9th year base pay: $160/day
10th year base pay: $165/day
TIPS: Tips cannot be expected, however, new guides typically average between $800 and $2200 in tips per season. More experienced guides can make over $4,000 per season.
SPENDING MONEY: It is important to repeat that you do not get paid during your three week training course. You will need to arrive in Buena Vista with enough money to cover your rent deposit ($300), personal river gear (cost based on preference), and other outstanding expenses you may have (insurance, car payments, bills, etc.). We suggest arriving with $800-$1000. Managing your money well is a skill that will come in very handy in the early weeks as a river guide.
END OF SEASON BONUS: Guides that exceed expectations during their seasonal employment are eligible for an end-of-season bonus equivalent to a minimum of $5.00 for each full day worked during the season. This includes meeting the availability requirements listed above and successfully completing their contracts.
END OF SEASON REQUIREMENTS: Must stay until the last day of contract or petition for early release at end of season lottery. Guides dismissed from employment for any reason or guides unable to work through the final day of their employment agreement will not be eligible for this bonus. Must not take unauthorized days of during the summer (ie. vacations without pre-approval and no more than two days off in a row in July). Must complete end of season meeting, paperwork and updated river log prior to Labor Day.
ADDITIONAL BENEFITS: Wilderness Aware guides earn additional pay based on the following:
- $10.00 /day for trip leading.
- $15.00 /day for trip leading a trip with five or more boats.
- $35.00 /day for working an overnight trip.
- $10.00 /day for working Numbers.
- $20.00 /day for working a Royal Gorge Full Day.
- $10.00 /day for rigging any trip except an Arkansas ½, 1 day trip and Inn to Inn trips.
- $10.00 /day for working a Dolores, Gunnison, North Platte or Upper Colorado trip.
- $15.00 /day for being requested for a trip ($7.50 for ½ days).
- $10.00 /day for running an “eight load” ($5.00 for ½ days).
- $10.00 /trip for working a ½ day w/ lunch.
- $20.00 /trip for Royal Gorge and Numbers guide qualification runs.
- $10.00 /day for advanced medical certification of Wilderness First Responder or higher.
- ½ base pay for Gunnison Pack-In.
- Full base pay for Safety boating
- Shop pay is $15/ hour.
- Guides are paid $15.00 for being bumped from a ¼ or ½ day trip and $20.00 for a full day bump.
- Friends and family of guides may raft on ½ day trips for $10.00 per person and full day trips for $15.00 per person on a space available basis.
- Rental gear is available to friends and family of guides at ½ off the retail price.
- Third year and senior guides may take guests on overnight trips for $35/ day which helps cover trip expenses.
- With prior approval of management, guides may borrow company boats and equipment for private Arkansas River trips. Any damage to borrowed equipment must be repaired at the cost of the person or persons that borrowed the equipment.
- With prior approval of management, Wilderness Aware will pay $150 tuition per year towards enhanced skills training for second year and senior guides. This money will only be applied to Swiftwater Rescue and advanced First Aid instruction.
- Any trip cut short (as determined by management) in terms of time or distance will result in a deduction to base pay by a minimum of 1/2 day and a loss of any other additional pay such as overnight pay.
- These benefits and policies are explained in detail in the Guide Staff Manual.
WHAT KIND OF HOUSING IS IT? All first-year guides are required to live in Wilderness Aware’s employee housing. Wilderness Aware owns an 18-unit mobile home park in Buena Vista, about 3 miles from our office. Guides live in about 6 of the 18 units. Other units are rented year round to local residents.
PRIVACY: Guides are assigned to a trailer with up to four roommates. No more than two people will share a bedroom.
DEPOSIT: Upon your arrival in Buena Vista, Wilderness Aware requires a $200 advance rent payment plus a $100 damage deposit for a total of $300. This must be paid prior to moving in. At the end of the season, any necessary repairs and cleaning costs will be deducted from the $100 damage deposit. Repair costs are rarely incurred but are possible.
COST: Rent is subsidized by Wilderness Aware. Employees pay $1,000 for the entire season. This is not a monthly rate. Utilities are included. Arrive and pay your $200 rent + $100 security deposit, and once you start working you will have an additional $800 taken out of your paychecks to cover the remaining balance of your rent.
DURATION: Your rent covers the duration of your contract or two days after your last day worked whichever is shorter. No rent or damage deposit refund will be given in the event of early termination or if the employee leaves without completing his or her contract.
PETS: Pets are not allowed.
PHONES: We do not provide land-line phones in our trailers. You are required to have a cell phone (note that Sprint and T-Mobile have very limited service in the area, Verizon and AT&T work best).
DRUG-FREE WORKPLACE POLICY: Wilderness Aware is a drug free workplace. In addition to prohibiting illicit and abusive drugs, Wilderness Aware also prohibits the use of medical and recreation marijuana. As a condition of employment, every employee agrees to abide by the terms of the policy as set out in the Guide Staff Manual. Guides will participate in pre-employment screening and will also participate in a random drug-testing program throughout the season. Failure to comply with the terms of this policy will result in disciplinary action, which may include the employee’s discharge from employment. Employees are not permitted to consume alcohol on Wilderness Aware property and legal personal use of alcohol shall not interfere with job performance or community relations.
TOBACCO-FREE POLICY: Wilderness Aware is a tobacco free company. Smoking and chewing tobacco is not permitted on Wilderness Aware property or in any Wilderness Aware vehicle. Guides are not permitted to smoke or chew tobacco on any WA trip. This includes all overnight trips. Any employee found in violation of this policy will be subject to appropriate disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal.
After getting home and reflecting on my week on the river, I wanted to take the time to let you know how much I appreciated the opportunity to go on the interview trip. The experience was unbelievable. It made me realize just how much I wanted to be a part of Wilderness Aware. After this week especially, I understand that you have a tough job ahead choosing from all the applicants. Regardless of the outcome, the experience was impactful for me, and I wanted to thank you. Please pass my gratitude along to Joe.
Ciao for now,
I want to thank you for an awesome week on the salt and an unforgettable experience. Thank you for the opportunity and consideration for this job. I am very impressed with the operations WA goes through and how customers are treated on a daily basis. I want to make it clear that I am very devoted to this job and the commitment that comes with it. If offered this position, I am in it for the long run and wish immerse myself into the outdoor industry. I feel that I can be an asset to the company by being a great guide, being personable with the customers, and share my passion for nature. Please pass down my appreciation to Joe and Isaiah if you could. Looking forward to hearing from you soon.