SNOWMASS VILLAGE - It's one thing to rendezvous down Stillwater on an inner tube with friends, and it's another to maneuver down the capricious whitewater of the Roaring Fork with six incompetent passengers under your control. At Blazing Adventures, guides face the unpredictable waters of the rivers that surround us every day, and even with years of experience under their belts, the chance of disaster always looms in the back of their minds.
For Blazing here in Snowmass, guiding passengers safely down the river isn't always credited to a group of burly guys with six-packs lifeguarding the weak back to shore: In fact, nearly half of its guides are girls - girls who continue to guide successful trips and push their way up through the ranks summer after summer.
Now in her third summer as a raft guide, Henrietta Oakley took a timeout from the river to explain how she got started and discuss the ups and downs of going head to head with one of nature's most powerful creatures.
Snowmass Sun: What turned you on to becoming a raft guide three summers ago?
Henrietta Oakley: I wanted to do something for the summer that gave me the chance to be outdoors as much as possible. I was inspired by the people I knew who worked for Blazing and had a desire to take on the challenge that rafting offers.
SS: Being a female raft guide, what would you say was your biggest challenge when joining the staff?
HO: Learning the maneuvers and how to anticipate the turns in the river before they happen were the hardest skills to develop. In my first summer, I was memorizing a lot; now it is mostly reactionary. I don't find any differences between the girls and the guys. We are all competent on the river and work well with one another.
SS: What's it like knowing the fate of your passengers lies largely in your hands?
HO: They say there are two types of raft guides: those who have flipped and those who are waiting to flip. I have yet to flip on a commercial trip, but I am always anticipating that moment if it were to happen and approach each trip with maximum focus and strategy.
SS: In your personal experience, have you had any trips go dangerously bad?
HO: Yes. Last year my friend was guiding us on a Class 4 through the upper Colorado River, and our boat flipped. We couldn't see each other, and we were forced to swim through some pretty serious rapids for about three minutes until we were able to make our way to shore. We lost all our belongings and had to search for our boat, which had traveled a long ways down shore.
SS: What is the most important thing you have learned in your experience, and what advice do you have for other girls who want to become raft guides?
HO: That there is no guarantee the river is going to be nice to you. With every summer comes new challenges to overcome. From high water and engulfing rapids to low water and exposed rock, it is always changing, and the one thing to remember is that quick response and reaction could mean the difference between life and death.