International Rafting Federation Guide Training Programme with Timberlines Academy – From zero to hero!
I had previously worked with Timberlines Academy, running Alberta’s Provincial Rafting Certification (PROAOA). This year though Timberlines decided to offer their students an International Rafting Federation (IRF) Certificatation.
What is the IRF though? The IRF is “Recognised as the world body which oversees the certification and training of professional river rafting guides, the IRF works closely with national organisations and government bodies by offering the only rafting guide certification program accepted worldwide. Through our various courses and certifications, we can ensure a global standard of guides while continually evolving raft techniques to keep everyone safer on rafting excursions.” International Rafting Federation website.
What is Timberlines Academy? “Timberline Canadian Alpine Academy is a post-secondary outdoor adventure school located in the heart of Banff National Park. Timberline was founded with the purpose of training students to become well-rounded outdoor professionals in a leadership capacity.” Timberlines Academy website
With this in mind. James (the owner of Timberlines) and myself, decided to offer the students a full training week with the aim to introduce the students to the world of professional rafting. Learn more about our International Rafting Federation Guide Training Education Workshop available in May 2023.
The river I chose for the training week was the Kananaskis River, located at the foot of the Canadian Rockies. With the upper section having class 2/3 rapids, it would be perfect for the students to learn and refine their skills.
For each of these students to be successful during their course they would be assessed on certain skills. When it comes to rafting it is not just the personal rafting skill we look at, the rescue skills and group management skills are just as important.
During the week each student would be assessed on –
- Pre-departure safety demonstration
- Rafting Skills & crew management
- White water swimming
- Rope Work
- Throw bagging
- Flip drill
- Theory test
For each of these points, I would present the students with a class on the subject, for them to learn, understand and practice the skill.
Normally day 1 of a course is an interesting day for everyone involved, the instructor is learning the students’ backgrounds, previous experience, and goals for the week. For the students, they’re looking around and sussing each other out, normally takes a few days to create a team environment. This one was different because all the students involved had already been working with each other for at least 6 months. So, the team environment was there from day one!
The day started with me setting the aims and goals for the week, top of the list was the safety of everyone involved in the week. The aim was to challenge the students but, in a safe, fun, and educational way.
Another aim that I always find important was for each student to understand everyone is coming from a different background with different experiences. Each student would be aiming for different goals during the week and the success of one should not discourage another.
With the goals set for the week, we moved on to looking at personal protective equipment (PPE) and personal rescue equipment (PRE). This was a very long in-depth discussion in which we looked at personal flotation devices, helmets, throw bags, knives, carabiners, prussiks, pullies and so much more. The goal was for each student to understand the advantages and disadvantages of the different types of equipment and their uses.
By this point, both myself and the students were itching to get on the water. We moved to the nearby lake to practice paddle stroke and flip drills, seeing that it was a wonderful spring day. We broke down the basic turning and steering strokes that the students would be using for the rest of their week. With the students having a canoeing background this went very well!
Taking advantage of the weather we moved on to flip drills. This is one of the assessment points for a potential guide. We set up a class on the side of the lake and looked at the main points of the flip drill,
- Methods for climbing in the raft (upside down and the correct way up)
- Paddle management
- Re-flip methods
- Group management
With the day ending I wanted to do one last thing with the students. During the course, I was lucky assisted by two of my best returning guide, Saskia, and Spencer. So, we did a lap of the Kananaskis River with the students as guests to show them the excitement they could expect to become potential raft guides!
To begin our second day, we started by focusing on the pre-departure safety demonstration. This is a key point of the student’s training. The difference between a safe and an unsafe trip is the safety demonstration provided by the guide.
There were a few points that I wanted to emphasize to the students –
- Focus on making visual demonstrations
- Keep verbal instructions to a minimum
- Think about the environment around the raft to maximize client learning
I gave the students two examples of a safety demonstration, one with a mixture of verbal and visual instruction, and one in complete silence using just visual demonstrations. This really helped to emphasize nonverbal communication.
We broke up into 3 groups and started practicing our safety demonstrations. I wanted the students to practice this demonstration while providing feedback before they were assessed.
Once we had done a few safety demonstrations and the students started to understand the flow of the demonstration, we got ready to get on the river.
During the week I would teach the students the basic rafting maneuvers –
- Forward Ferries
- Backward Ferries
- Directional eddy catching
These can be used to maneuver the raft on the river and for catching eddies. This would be something we would continue all week with the students.
With the weather holding, (surprising for May in the Canadian Rockies), I wanted to do a class on throw bagging and then their throw bag assessment.
We did a dry land class on all things throw bags. Looking at the types and designs, throw and re-throw styles, rope management, and belying. With the students, I found that their first throws were very good! Although, re-throw methods would need to be practiced. This is common during a training week, so we practiced, practiced, practiced!
Once we had done a few runs concentrating on our raft maneuvers, I found a suitable spot for the throw bag assessment, then got to it.
For their assessment, they would have to throw bag two swimmers 25 seconds apart. This assessment is designed to test the student’s throw and re-throw skills, rope management, and communication skills.
With the students doing great on their throw bag assessment, we finished the day with white water swims and called it a day.
With time always being a factor, this day was going to be a big day. Our day started with safety demonstrations with some students starting to pass. Great start to the day!
We continued our day with more runs of the river to get the students as much time on the guide stick as possible. Then to one of my favorite parts of the course, rope work. When I was training as a guide, rope work was one of my weakest skills, now with a lot of practice it is one of my strongest skills.
For this, I would look at different types of knots used in a white-water environment, construction of anchors, methods to unpin a raft, counting mechanical advantage, and construction of rope work systems.
With the students recently completing a swift water safety course, a lot of this was fresh in their minds, I would just add to this and make it more relevant to the rafting world.
After the class we did the student’s assessment, they all made a 3:1 rope work system with a self-equalizing system on the raft within 5 minutes.
The last day of the course allowed me to clean up any areas of the student’s assessments I hadn’t seen. We finished off the last of the safety demonstrations, flip drills, and any personal guiding.
We finished our time on the water by doing a run of the Kananaskis allowing the students to let their hair down and have a bit of fun surfing.
Once we were off the water I did the student’s debriefs and congratulated them on a great week on the water. All the students walked away with either a provisional 2 or 3 guide, this means they could work as a trainee guide under an IRF certified and once they had completed their logged training runs could advance to a full IRF guide.
I had a blast with the students of Timberlines Academy and can’t wait to get back on the water with them next year!