Rafting Adventures Around the World – An Interview with White Wolf Rafting River Manager, Will Harrison
How old were you when you first experienced being in a boat?
My dad took me sea kayaking from a very young age. My family was from the Isle of Skye in Scotland, but we were living in Dubai at the time. My dad, who was in the British Navy, had an expedition sea kayak. When I was 5-6 years old he’d put me and my older brother in the front pack hole and the equipment in the back.
When did you start river kayaking?
When my family moved back to Scotland when I was 9-10 years old I started doing other styles of kayaking. We were still going sea kayaking but I also joined a Kayaking Club in Glasgow. I spent the winters on the Isle of Skye and my summers in Glasgow with my grandparents where I kayaked on pools and lakes, and also went on small river trips.
What did you study at college?
When I was aged 17-18 I went to North Glasgow College for Sports Coaching & Development in Outdoors. That’s when I found my love for white water kayaking.
When did you realize that you wanted to work as a river rafting guide?
I grew up doing a lot of skiing and kayaking. It wasn’t until I was just about to finish college that I went on a rafting course by accident. A friend had broken his arm, and he offered for me to go on the course and I really enjoyed it. The guys running the course hired me and I ended up doing my first season in Scotland the summer between college and university.
What did you study at university?
I did a BA degree in Sports Development at the University of West Scotland. My parents made me do it. They said they’d buy me a car, but it ended up being a $100 Nissan Micra from my uncle.
What was your first experience river guiding?
All through university, I knew I wanted to work outdoors. I worked as a canoe guide in the south of France for a few years. I also did a lot of personal kayaking with a large group of friends. We’d go to France in the summers and canoe, and then in the winters we’d all move to Scotland and work crappy jobs, make sure we’d get the same days off and go kayaking.
What was your first season as a raft guide like?
During my first season as a raft guide in Austria, I realized I wanted to be a professional raft guide. I worked for Feelfree, a rafting company in Tyrol, which had a very professional guide team. Many of their senior guides were career raft guides. My new bosses had experience guiding raft tours all over the world. It was a great place to learn. The rivers in Austria are pretty epic as well, it has one of the best class 4’s in Europe. A whole 8 km of class 4 rapids, pretty full-on.
What other countries have you rafted in?
I’ve been river rafting in Morocco, Bosnia, India and Pakistan. You’d be surprised how many places you can white water raft, they’re just not as well known as other places. During my first summer as a raft guide in Austria, the company I worked for had a partner company in India called Snow Leopard Adventures. My boss called the owner in India and the next day they offered me a job guiding in India. The European guides would offer training to local guides in India. I got to work on the Ganges and the two rivers that make the Ganges, the Bhagirathi and Alaknanda. India offered very different rafting, big water with intimidating rapids. It scared me, but it was a super fun experience!
How long did you spend guiding rafting in Indian?
I spent three consecutive seasons guiding rafting in India. For three years I chased summers. I spent winters rafting in India, springs rafting in Morocco and my summers rafting in Austria. In the fall I’d go back home to Scotland to visit my family.
When did you move to Canada?
Eventually, I got tired of travelling. I loved Austria and I still have a lot of good friends there, but I was craving something different. A friend suggested Canada. I tried to get a travel visa but it didn’t come through so I went travelling in Asia. Once my visa was approved, I moved to Golden and guided on the Kicking Horse River. I’ve been proud to call Canmore home since 2017.
What’s your favourite country for river rafting?
There are so many different styles of rafting. In India and Morocco, I did more multi-day trips. We did a 5-day tour in the Atlas Mountain in Morocco down a section of the river that had never been done before in a raft. We spent two days on a river before joining the Ahansel River for three days. We ended up in a big lake which we got towed across by a powerboat. It was epic. The people in Morocco were super friendly. It was like stepping 40 years back in the past. I grew up in a Muslim country so I feel very comfortable in Muslim countries. Morocco was certainly one of my favourites!
What’s the most exciting river you’ve rafted on?
The most exciting river I’ve ever rafted on was when I was training with the senior guides in Austria on the Upper Ache. It was one of the craziest rivers I’ve ever rafted. It was exciting, but let’s just say a bunch of guides were happy when it was over.
How does the Kananaskis River compare to all the rivers you’ve rafted on all over the world?
The Kananaskis River is one of the more playful rivers I’ve rafted. There’s more to do than just run the rapids. It’s one of the few places you can do a lot of river surfing which is super fun. Often our guests don’t understand river surfing until they try it. When we take them into their first surf then they understand what’s going on.
What do you think makes Kananaskis such a special rafting experience?
It’s all about the Rocky Mountains! I’ve worked in mountainous regions before, but the turquoise cold water and big mountain views are stunning. Everywhere you look is like a postcard. It’s a very pretty place to go rafting.
Do you ever see any wildlife on tour?
We occasionally see wildlife. You’re more likely to see beaver, deer, elk on our float tour. There are also lots of opportunities to see birds of prey like osprey, gold eagles and bald eagles. We almost always see at least one bird of prey on the Horseshoe Canyon tour, because there’s an osprey nest there and they hunt on the river. A few times I’ve seen an osprey dive in, catch a fish and fly away with it.
As an experienced international qualified rafting guide, do you have any tips or advice for someone trying to decide which tour company to book with?
Find out what the guides are qualified for. There’s the Provincial Rafting Outfitters Association of Alberta (PROAOA). Every company in Alberta needs this. I’m also an International Rafting Federation (IRF) Instructor so all of our guides are trained to an international standard of rafting. Outside of North America, 99% of guides are IRF certified. IRF is relatively new to North America. There are only a handful of IRF Assessors in North America and I’m one of them.
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