Whitewater Rafting Trips in Oregon & Idaho


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Ouzel Outfitters
Box 817
Bend, Oregon 97709

Breaking into the guiding profession is different everywhere you go. Some companies offer guide schools to offset the costs of training, others have you tag along on real trips until you are ready to guide. In almost every case, the process is long and can be difficult financially. On this page, we try to answer any questions that you might have about what you can expect from us, what we will expect from you and what your first season with Ouzel will be like.

Your First Year with Ouzel

New guides at Ouzel typically spend their entire first year in an "apprentice" position. We are rarely able to offer full-time work due to the lack of experience, but are able to provide unlimited "river time" on commercial trips with experienced guides and will give you as much work as your expanding experience and our schedule merits. New guides begin working one-day trips on easier rivers such as the Deschutes and McKenzie, and will likely get the opportunity to assist on easy multi-day trips in their first year. Each new guide must "swamp" (co-guide with an experienced mentor) a minimum number of trips on each section of river before they are qualified to guide that section. For more information on our hiring and scheduling practices, click HERE.

We will select a maximum of 12 people whom we will offer to train and who we allow to swamp and borrow gear in order to improve their skills and knowledge of the rivers they will work. Those guides that complete training, take advantage of other swamping and training opportunities and are still available in mid-June, will get the work. Assuming that they are always available, work will start to trickle in by mid-June, ramping up to 3 to 5 days a week by late July. For the busiest part of our season – the last 2 weeks of July through late August – the most successful new guides can work 5 to 7 days a week. Typically only about half of the trainees make it through to the busiest part of the season. Trainees will choose not to continue for a variety of reasons. Some may simply need to pay the bills and get a job that will pay more regularly, others may decide that commercial boating is just not for them (it is quite different than private boating).

If there is one idea that we would like to plant in your mind about your first year working with Ouzel, it is that you will only get out of it what you put into it.

Training with Ouzel

Guides need to possess a wide array of difficult skills that can take a long time to train and can tax the resources of any rafting company. Training for new guides is free (with the exception of some meals and personal clothing appropriate for spring rafting). Trainees are selected on the basis of an application and interview. New-guide training typically takes place in May and lasts from 5 to 9 days. Successful completion of the training program does not guarantee work but it does give you access to mandatory continued training throughout the year. New guides who maintain good availability, demonstrate excellent customer service and teamwork skills, and aggressively seek out training opportunities and "river time" will receive work sooner. When work is not available at Ouzel, we encourage new guides to seek part-time work with other rafting companies and we will assist with this as much as possible.

First, we would like to give you a little idea of what will be expected of you as a trainee should you be selected. Ouzel’s philosophy concerning training is that we can teach you the skills to safely navigate the river, however, it is not as easy to teach those qualities that are supremely important to Ouzel: positive interaction with the guests and other guides, customer service, a good work ethic, positive, outgoing and interactive personalities, good interpretive skills, etc… Again, being selected to train with Ouzel, does not guarantee a job with us; during training you will be evaluated for all the “innate” qualities of a guide as well as your potential concerning safety and boat handling skills. Think of it as a 5 to 9 day interview.

We train our new guides (totally new to boating) free of charge for two reasons 1) It takes a tremendous amount of time and resources to train a person to be a guide and is a job requiring a very diverse range of skills. We want to be able to focus on teaching our guides the skills necessary to run a quality Ouzel trip and to handle the rigors of commercial boating. Because a trainee is not paying for the class, we can ask them to look elsewhere if we see that it will not be a good fit. 2) No rafting company can guarantee work. It is a guest driven industry and the need for guides changes based on the multitude of factors determining a family’s desire to go rafting. Since we cannot give you a guarantee of work in your first year, we can’t very well charge you money to train you. The New Guide Training and the pre-training paddle weekend are mandatory for all guides new to boating. Click HERE for the exact dates of this years training opportunities.

We have the ability to be a little flexible with what parts of the training that you attend if you have conflicts with the dates. However, with so much information and skills to teach and such a short time to do it in, we can only do so much.

Working for Ouzel

Our company is a medium sized one. We employ about 20 – 25 guides during the season, some just picked up boating last year, others have been guiding for 20 years. We have guides who start in late April and work through mid-September getting 90 – 100 river days and others who come and help us when it gets busy and might get 10 river days. As a rookie guide, it is important to know what to expect once you complete the training and begin to vie for work in the season.

Swamping. “Swamping” is when a trainee tags along on a regular Ouzel trip with customers. Trainees are expected to lend a hand where they are able but more importantly it is a time to learn all that you can about the river - campsites, natural history, logistics etc. It is also a time for our returning guides to get an idea of what you are all about. All guides regardless of experience are required to have the skills to navigate a stretch safely and swamp at least one Ouzel commercial trip on a stretch before they can work a trip on that stretch. Since swamping is unpaid, the first year can be hard on the wallet. Even after you have started working trips on some stretches you will need to continue swamping on others to become qualified on them. For the 14 stretches of river that Ouzel does, this process can take several years. The first year is the hardest and you can expect to be on the river for almost as many unpaid days as paid days during the first season if you include training. Though we will try to place you where we can, swamping is mostly self-motivated. How motivated you are to swamp will definitely affect your schedule.

Financial Endurance. The first year of guiding can be a lean year financially. After training there is very little work until mid-June. Many trainees use this time to borrow boats and hone their skills or to swamp early season trips. Guides who have tried to work another job have rarely been successful at commercial guiding. Inevitable conflicts will reduce your time spent training and your availability to work. A second job is possible but it is likely that, at some point when we get busy, you will have to make a choice between the 2nd job and guiding.

Availability. Our 1st year guides are basically “on-call”. Many day-trips are booked in the two days before the trip. There are no reliable schedules. Those guides that are in constant contact with the scheduler, are easy to get in touch with, and who don’t have other conflicts will get the bulk of the work during the season. Don’t expect much work (if any) until mid-June and then it will be slow to start. By early July we are starting to get very busy and from mid July thru mid to late August you will be working as much as you can handle (if you stay available). By late August the work will start to taper off and generally you will be done by September 1.

Location. It is important that you plan to live in Central Oregon for your first season. Most of the trips and the training opportunities begin and end in Bend and living out of the area will reduce those opportunities tremendously. We will not train or employ any rookie trainee who does not have plans to live in Central Oregon during their first season. Ouzel does not supply any local housing for guides (and we do not allow camping at the warehouse).

Skills aptitude. For a trainee with no experience there are an incredible number of new skills at which you will need to become proficient in a relatively short amount of time. The speed at which you pick up these skills will directly affect what and how much work you get. As mentioned before, you need to not only to have the physical ability, but the customer service and inter-personal skills to run a stretch safely before you are assigned to work it.

Continued Education. We strongly encourage our employees (in some cases through bonus pay or raises) to continue improving themselves as guides after training. Reading about the rivers you are running and developing interpretive talks, higher First Aid certifications, and Swiftwater Rescue Certification are just a few ways to better yourself as a guide. While there is a place for guides who get comfortable with the minimum requirements for guiding, they are not considered first for advancement.

Warehouse Assistant work. This job is assigned to 1st year guides who are not working that day as a way to increase your income and to increase your understanding of the behind-the-scenes logistics and planning that goes into a trip. We will always assign our guide staff first and then draw from those not working anyway to be the W/A; you will never be kept from guiding to fill this role. As the W/A for the day you will shop for and pack the food for all river trips originating in Bend the next day. You may be responsible for assembling gear for and processing rentals or for keeping First Aid kits stocked and maintaining inventory. The W/A keeps the warehouse clean and organized and occasionally assists river crews in packing for trips and cleaning up afterwards.

Ouzel Pay Scale

Click HERE for a description of Ouzel’s Pay Scale.

Required Equipment

Click HERE for a list of equipment that you will be required to have.

It is always difficult to try to describe the first year of guiding to people as it doesn’t come out on paper sounding that great. Please keep in mind that we have described the process of “breaking into” guiding. Once you become qualified on your first river, the rest is just “staying in the current”. If you like people, being outdoors, cooking (and eating) great food, having active, challenging work (and getting paid for it) and sleeping under the stars – guiding is the greatest job you will ever have.



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