How to choose a Reputable Guide Service

First what is a guide service? Wikipedia doesn’t even have a definition stating “The page “Guide service” does not exist. Digging deeper into the web abyss I find this from an Oregan based legal glossary: “Outfitting and guiding services” include, but are not limited to, leading, protecting, instructing, training, cooking, packing, guiding, transporting, supervising, interpreting or otherwise assisting any person in the conduct of outdoor recreational activities”( Guide services typically do just that for a majority of outdoor recreational activities including whitewater rafting, rock climbing, canyoneering, highlining, mountaineering, ice climbing, mountain biking, hiking, and let’s not forget wilderderness therapy.
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  Just a few of the 21 outdoor recreation opportunities NC Outdoor Adventures offers. 

The popularity of Guide Services in the USA has grown exponentially over the last decade! In NC alone 56% of residents participate in some form of outdoor recreation annually.  In 2018 the Outdoor Recreation Industry in NC had $28 billion in consumer spending leading to the creation of 260,000 jobs, $8.3 billion in wages, creating $1.3 billion in tax revenue (Growing Outdoors Project, Mountain BizWorks). This surge in Outdoor Recreation created a demand for more Guides , and challenged land management groups such as the National Forestry Service to rethink current regulation strategies including revamping the permitting processes for many places you visit  . These regulations though are frequently not enough to stop pirate guiding, or guides running businesses under the radar. Ultimately it is up to you as the consumer to check out the legitimacy of a guide company before going out on a trip with them. You may easily do this by just asking about the permits they have acquired and where they have permission to operate.

Why should you care if a guide is certified or carries permits in the areas they guide?  First the above activities are all considered “high risk” activities (hence why the definition above popped up first on a legal glossary).  Meaning the activities above have inherent dangers that are mitigated by your guides ability and qualifications to safely navigate him or herself and their guests through varied terrain and activities.  Varied terrain examples: flat water v/s whitewater, rock v/s ice climbing, backpacking v/s mountaineering. The riskier the activity the more important it should be for the consumer to make certain who they hire is qualified, it also speaks to the increase in cost for the consumer. Here is how to make sure the company you choose has reputable/qualified guides.

1: Ask for your guides certification info: The video included with this blog is an example of one of our river guides, Christy Thrift’s swift water rescue course through Rescue NC LLC this past October.

ALL GUIDES SHOULD HOLD THESE MINIMUM CERTIFICATIONS: CPR/ADULT/ CHILD /AED/ and BASIC FIRST AID. Your guides be it a river guide or rock-climbing guide should hold certifications in the areas they guide.

Rock Climbing Guides in the USA for example have several certifying bodies: the Professional Climbing Guides Institute (PCGI), American Mountain Guide Association (AMGA/IFMGA) and the Professional Climbing Instructors Association (PCIA).  There are several certifications for different types of guided rock like Top Rope, Single Pitch and Multi-Pitch. Professional Guides do continuing education to keep certifications current and most seek out advanced education in first aid and rescue.

Guides who work on the river should also have certifications including Swift Water Rescue Training. The main certifying body is the American Canoe Association or the ACA. Note: there is a big difference between a life-guard cert v/s a swift-water cert. Life Guards jobs usually encompass open non-moving bodies of water like lakes or pools. These areas have few natural hazards like those present in moving water situations including changing water levels, rocks, undercuts, strainers, foot entrapments and of course currents. Rivers are constantly changing due to things like flooding and downed trees. A GOOD RIVER COMPANY IS CONSTANTLY RUNNING THE RIVER THEY GUIDE, CHECKING FOR AND RESOLVING ANY HAZARDS THEY ENCOUNTER. Most guide companies partner with organizations such as the park service, Carolina Climbers Coalition, Access Fund, French Broad Riverkeeper and Catawba Riverkeeper to accomplish safe, environmentally friendly environments for those who recreate there.

Remember the guide’s certification information can be looked up via the organization where the guide did his training. Most Guide Service websites have this information. Here is NC Outdoor Adventure’s,  Meet the Guides Page:

2: Check for proof of business Insurance: Note guides that do not carry insurance are not legally able to guide on federal land as having business insurance and proof of certifications are a main criterion to apply for Federal  permits; State Parks are more lenient. For example a business without insurance or proof of guide certifications can likely get a permit to guide in a State Park like Crowders Mountain State Park whereas the same company would not make it to step one applying for a permit to guide in say Pisgah National Forest. 

3: Read Reviews:  Just remember reviews can be skewed by fake positive or negative reviews. 

4: Community Service: This is an extra but I feel like this is a Guide Service’s obligation to give back to the areas we frequent.  Most companies volunteer their time and guides to help with things like trail work, river and crag clean ups, graffiti and trash removal as well as hosting educational events. Guide services often times support local nonprofits like the Carolina Climbers Coalition (CCC) or American Alpine Club and Access Fund. Lots of guides volunteer with local Search and Rescue Organizations. NC Outdoor Adventures raises the bar by giving 5% of our total climbing revenue annually to the CCC! See that info under, Why Choose Us: The outdoor recreation community in general does a great job monitoring, reporting and taking care of issues that could be hazardous as well as maintaining our wilderness areas and teaching LNT to anyone who will listen. 

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Commonly asked Questions:

How much does a guide cost?

Well, it depends on what you are hiring them for. For example, guided rock climbing is much pricier than say a rafting trip, rock climbing will be cheaper than say Ice Climbing or Mountaineering trip. Here are the main factors contributing to cost: gear, education, certification, permits, Insurance and  transportation. If the company you choose is substantially cheaper than the competition in the area, there is a reason. Higher prices typically tend to mean higher quality guides/experiences.  

Do we tip our guide?

It is customary to tip your guide if you had a pleasurable experience. Although they are paid a wage to guide their income is heavily dependent on tips as well (especially your river/raft/ducky guides). A guide’s job (we will get into that in the next blog) is to keep you safe, teach and entertain! A common saying in the whitewater world, “if you enjoyed your ride tip your guide”. Customary tipping is considered 20% of your pre-tax cost.  

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