In September, I visited El Dorado County for the second time, my first time returning since fall 2016 when I met and tasted with Greg Boeger of Boeger Winery. This trip, I was graciously hosted by Visit El Dorado and ventured beyond the wine to whitewater rafting. My first whitewater rafting experience was many years ago during a Spanish summer abroad program in Costa Rica and I loved it. Therefore, I was thrilled to return to the rapids of the South Fork of the American River with Raft California and guide and operations manager, Anna Weber. I wish I could think of a more polite word, but Anna is badass in every way. She inspired me so much that I decided to interview her. Below are my questions and her answers.
What kind of experiences does Raft California offer?
Raft California offers whitewater rafting trips for ages four and up, from mild Class II to wild Class V. With over 40 years of experience, Raft California provides both day and multi-day trips on over 12 rivers in the state of California. The beautiful rivers for which we offer commercial rafting trips range from the gateway of Sequoia National Park all the way to the Oregon border. Some of our river offerings are nationally preserved wild and scenic stretches! The raft guides are also the chefs and cater delicious riverside meals to accompany the trips. Over the years, we have branched out to include hot springs, wine tours, and fishing whitewater trips – all fun ways to spice up a rafting outing!
What makes Raft California different from other rafting companies in El Dorado County?
Our staff and our river offerings are what set Raft California aside from other companies in El Dorado County. Our campground is over 60 acres of private grounds and includes beautiful riverside camping with canvas tents and riverside dining. The staff is extremely experienced – many with over a decade or two of guiding experience. Select guides on our staff head to the southern hemisphere in our off season to pursue the same line of work because of their passion for whitewater rafting. Our claim to fame is the long list of permitted rivers that we offer. If someone rafts with us in El Dorado County and wants to explore more rivers in our state, Raft California can offer that.
What drew you to become the operations manager and raft guide for Raft California?
I began as a raft guide for the company. I was often appointed head guide and trip lead for many of our trips. Our general manager knew that I had prior managerial experience in a similar industry which led him to ask if I would like to manage the South Fork American day trips that we offered. This quickly morphed into a river manager position, and this season, grew into an operations manager role. I enjoy the challenge of managing and decided it would be best to continue this line of work in the summer. This enabled me to free up time in the winter to travel and play in the snow.
How long have you been with Raft California?
I have been full time with Raft California officially since 2015 but helping part time since 2012.
What qualifications are required to be a raft guide? What does a raft company operations manager do?
The qualifications required to be a raft guide are different all over the world. In the United States, it varies by state. To be a raft guide in California, many people attend a guide school. These are offered by many commercial companies including Raft California. After completing guide school, raft guide candidates train on each river section until they are deemed capable of guiding commercial guests by a senior guide staff member. In Maine where I learned how to raft guide, each raft guide must additionally acquire a Maine Whitewater Guide’s License through the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
The duties of an operations manager at Raft California consist of overseeing the operations! I manage a staff of coordinators appointed to run the grounds and facilities, river trips, meals, transportation, and satellite operations, like our base for the Truckee River located in Truckee, California. Anything Raft California related that happens outside is the operations manager’s domain. This also includes raft guide housing and handling the guide, scheduling, and reporting aspects of our computer system.
Please share one or two memorable rafting trips and why they are unforgettable.
Oh man, I love this question. There are so many memorable rafting trips and I could write about this all day because every trip is different. Sometimes the trip is so memorable because of the chemistry between the guests. Other times it is because of the weather that day or the wildlife we were lucky enough to see. For me, sometimes rafting trips are memorable because it is not a commercial trip and I am in an exotic place with my friends or family experiencing a new river.
I took a couple rafting in the spring. Only a husband and wife in their mid-60s who had never been rafting before had signed up for a day trip on the Chili Bar section of the South Fork American River. When our shuttle driver had left us, they, especially the wife, seemed extremely nervous. There was no one else except for the three of us. They could not imagine we would get down the river safely with the power of only three people. After navigating the first Class III rapid with no problem, they eased up a little bit. About an hour into the trip a bald eagle flew up the river at eye level and landed on a tree branch hanging over the water. As we floated by it watched us and we watched it. After we passed by it would leap frog us and land on another branch on the opposite side of the river downstream looking at us until we floated by. No one said anything. This leapfrogging with the bald eagle and our raft lasted for almost a mile until it flew off. The look of amazement in their eyes was indescribable as the husband blurted out “Did you see that ******* bald eagle?! It was ******* AWESOME!” Everything – from the silence on the river that day (we did not see another boat), to the eagle experience to this man’s ridiculous exclamation – made this one of my favorite commercial trips.
My most memorable non-commercial rafting trip was the first time I was lucky enough to float down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. This was for many reasons, but particularly the weather. Our group of seven had landed a permit to float this section during monsoon season. We were taking a day off from rafting to enjoy our campsite, “Matkat Hotel,” for two nights and a whole day. Our timing of choosing to lay over on this day was impeccably coordinated with the weather. The first night we were camping here, a thunderstorm rolled in. This was not just any thunderstorm. It was the granddaddy of monsoon thunderstorms. All night it poured rain and the thunder boomed through the canyon amplified by the canyon walls. At sunrise, we were greeted by what seemed like hundreds of gigantic waterfalls pouring in from every inch of the canyon walls. Depending on the drainage, each waterfall generated caused the water to be a different color. The juxtaposition of each waterfall’s color was unreal as they each cascaded into the opaque brown of the Colorado River. The Colorado was carrying massive amounts of tree trunks and debris from flash flooding tributaries upstream. The amount of sediment in the water would conceal these huge hazards from sight until the turbulent current would swirl them around until we would see a giant tree trunk shoot randomly shoot out into the air. Needless to say, this day I was glad to be a spectator from the bank of the river in the right place at the right time.
When is rafting season in El Dorado County?
Commercial rafting season in El Dorado Country is from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. Raft California typically takes guests down our rivers from March through October. If a group wants to go winter rafting, and the river levels are navigable, we will take them!
What kind of work do you do in the off season?
I snowboard as much as possible during the winter season. Teaching, training, and managing at ski and snowboard schools has made it possible for me to do this during the winters since 2002. There was a short stint I worked at a Heli Ski Lodge in Alaska. I also travel during the winter months. The past few years, I traveled to Japan, Alaska, and France for snowboarding endeavors.
When you are not rafting, what else do you enjoy doing?
If I am not playing on the river or on the snow, you will often find me sleeping, seeing live music, or cooking. In recent years, I have learned mountain biking, which has provided me with a new challenge!
During my experience with you, I discovered that whitewater rafting is a great metaphor for life. Do you agree? If so, how?
Absolutely, whitewater rafting IS a great metaphor for life. You must go with the flow. You cannot fight against the current. Sometimes you need to eddy out. I decided this year that I am rigged to flip for life!