River rafting downstream
becoming the mainstream
Industry strong part of province's adventure tourism industry
By Glen Watson
Water is good for the body, the mind, the soul and, in Whistler, good enough to be a part of a $10-million Canadian industry.
According to Tourism Canada's 1993 survey entitled Adventure Travel in Canada, river rafting surpassed sea kayaking, scuba diving and sailing.
The sport accounted for 138,558 traveller days among the 47 Canadian operations surveyed. Of those, 21 are from B.C. and three of these operations are based in or near Whistler.
According to local operators, business is even better now than it was in 1993.
The main reason for this, they all agree, is the fact that rafting is not a difficult sport.
"White water rafting in general, the reason it works is that anyone can do it with a certified guide. It is really forgiving," says Mike Sadan, who operates Wedge Rafting in Whistler.
"With kayaking, you can get out of control in a minute. Windsurfing takes time to learn. In a few minutes, rafting can work," he explains. "It's a real quick adventure, where guests can be back in their hotel in a couple of hours."
While the scenery is beautiful, with rivers rushing through trees and mountains, eco-tourism is not the main reason for trying river rafting.
"There's not a lot of people out here sniffing Mother Nature. This is for the person who wants to go out and have a good time," Sadan says.
The main incentive for people going river rafting is the price. Locally, a three-hour tour would be roughly $45 and it would be a lot more fun than hanging out on an island with Gilligan. The price includes all the gear, such as wet suit and life jacket, and transportation to the river and back.
There are no ability levels like there are in many sports. The rivers around Whistler are exciting, but not extremely dangerous. The extreme stuff, seen often in Hollywood movies, is not found locally.
To top it all off, rafting is extremely social because it is done as a group.
Shortly after a five-minute safety chat, the happy paddlers are on the river and tearing it up. The safety speech may be short, but rafting operations are long on safety.
Certified guides must be hired, and certification involves passing written and practical raft-guiding exams. Safety and first-aid courses must also be renewed every three years.
Each business must be licensed through the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks' registrar of commercial river-rafting and all are subject to random checks by the RCMP.