Mon-Fri 10am-5pm | 336 36th Street, Suite #191 Bellingham Washington, 98225 | 360.510.1243
Whitewater River Rafting in Washington State
Minimalist Rafting with Expert Guides near Seattle
Multi-Day Wilderness Rafting Expeditions in Idaho and Oregon
Kayaking | Rescue | Rentals
Triads Principles: Experience, Safety, and Minimalism
Minimum Environmental Impact | Maximum Nature Experience
Experience: Triad River Tours was founded by river guides. Our five river managers all have over 10 years of rafting experience; combined they have nearly 100 years as whitewater professionals. Triad is uncompromisingly committed to highly paid industry professionals who are exceptionally qualified to lead minimalist rafting trips. Understanding the connection between a fair/living wage for outdoor professionals and the quality of performance is critical when analyzing our company. While guides don't walk around with dollar signs attached to their helmets, rest assured that our commitment to them as an employer is nearing a sacred bond.
When you get into a raft with a guide that loves the company they work for, who is paid fairly, and who works in the profession that they love, you've taken the first step towards seeing the difference between our company and our competitors. We believe that our profession starts and ends with quality guides. We know of no other company in Washington who pays their guide staff as well as we do, or has standards higher than ours for competence, performance, and experience. Our guides are so qualified that they each have input in developing our system; that is why when you go to the river you can clearly see the difference between our company and "theirs"... Our systems were developed by experienced guides, and they are operated by experienced guides every day. We take thousands of people down the river each year and after each and every trip we debrief the previous one, and after each week we meet to see if any aspect of our system can be improved. Over the years our system has become more exacting and more refined, to the point where we are distinctly organized and skilled at our craft. When you raft with us we want you to feel that you are going with the best; the only way to truly provide that experience is to relentlessly pursue the finest guides in our industry.
3 Ethical Principles of Experience
- Hire experienced guides whenever possible and pay a fair wage
- Require all lead guides and trip leaders to be Certified Swiftwater Rescue Technicians
- Empower a communicative work environment where younger guides can learn
Safety: Each year Triad River Tours spends money that many of our competitors do not in order to prepare for all of the elements of chance and danger that the river has to offer us. We work in conjunction with several organizations which help support us in our efforts to provide the safest possible trip in an often dangerous setting. We send scouting kayaks out onto the river before trips where river levels have changed, to ensure that river passage is clear, and that our planned routes are accessible. We continually practice our evacuation procedures, communicating with rescue and emergency personnel, and even watch weather and traffic reports to closely predict response times.
Triad works in partnership with the Swiftwater Safety Institute, and voluntarily invests in independent third party audits of safety protocols, equipment systems, and guide training procedures. If any part of our system, from the guides, to the equipment, to the operational procedures, is not approved by one of our partners, we remove it. This ensures that at all times you not only have a guide company that has the best safety system that they know of, but one that is operating within and above continuously evolving industry standards. We believe and follow the motto preached by Swiftwater Rescue professionals; "Simple is Smooth and Smooth is Fast". Our safety protocols and procedures are all developed in accordance with the principles taught by leading professionals in the river rescue industry.
Washington is one of the most dangerous commercial whitewater states in the USA, with a commercial whitewater fatality being reported nearly every year since 2011. Compare this with a statistically minuscule market share in comparison to states such as Colorado, Idaho, and West Virginia, and the data returns back a clear and unquestionable reality; it is dangerous to raft here. So, as industry professionals in this state we have to ask ourselves a few questions, and the first is simple; can this danger be mitigated and/or can the root causes of these fatalities be found out and removed somehow? While it is incredibly difficult (and bold) to state that river accidents can be prevented; we firmly believe that many of them are. While our system, nor our guides, are infallible, we must continue to strive to discover what we believe are the primary culprits of river death.
One variable always peeks it's head when we analyze risk on whitewater rivers, and that is experience. Lesser experienced guides are more dangerous, and the correlation (r-squared) is high between inexperienced guides, and river accidents. As a result we believe that the best way to keep our guests safe is to retain through a fair wage, experienced guides, and operate our guide training at a higher standard than the rest of the industry.
In Washington, there is no guides and outfitters licensing board for commercial whitewater like there is in many other states, despite the fact that we have challenging and dangerous rivers. When we analyze the state legislation (found here: http://app.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=79A.60.430) we can see that these standards are loose and often unenforceable. When you take into account the small profit margins that exist in our industry, you can clearly see that these businesses are in a difficult position. In order to put the best guides, best equipment, and finest safety systems in place they will need to spend money that the public will never know about, and which adds no perceived value to their trips to the majority of potential customers, and has little to no effect on marketing channel production or sales conversion. This is the beginning of a very vicious cycle for whitewater river outfitters in our state, and because there is very weak legislation in Washington, there is very little incentive for outfitters to meet or exceed the quality standards set forth in this inept piece of legislation. Triad takes this commitment seriously.
If we look into the safety requirements for guide training in the state of Washington (listed in section 2 of the RCW in the above paragraph), the guidelines are vague at best, and provide little support for a public that is often unaware of the risk inherent in running a dangerous river with an inexperienced guide. As a result, rafting companies carry a heavy burden when confronted with the amount of ambiguity and confusion when deciding what it is exactly that is being asked of them. While we applaud the freedom afforded to us by our state legislature to operate within very liberal guidelines, we must take it upon ourselves to pursue industry standards which are not forced upon us in any way. This is one reason why every one of our guides have worked on rivers in other states, and often other countries. It's also a reason why we consult organizations such as American Whitewater, America Outdoors Association, Swiftwater Safety Institute, and other outfitters, as we must continue to pursue a greater understanding of our responsibilities to the public and to our industry. It is often the case that these standards are simply thrown out for the sake of driving down fixed costs of operations, and to increase profit margins in an industry where there is a "race to the bottom" in terms of price.
Triad trains guides just like anyone else, but we do so with a high level of commitment and authenticity towards our profession. Professional guides from around the world have taught us how to perform our jobs to the highest level of skill and precision, and we pass this knowledge to those who train with us as rookie guides. Often times we delay in allowing younger guides the opportunity to work for money; we make them tirelessly perform drills and procedures such as knots, rescue systems, and evacuation routes. Many times these guides will prefer to leave our company and join someone else's. It is not hyperbole for us to claim that many of the guide trainees who we rejected now work for our competitors. Our standards for our guides are intentionally very high, and our system is designed to keep these guides working as often as possible, to ensure that we have the finest guides making a living wage while doing what they love, and sharing that passion with our guests.
Triad utilizes only the highest commercial grade equipment to ensure that trips are never compromised due to a lack of quality gear. Our guides work closely with manufacturers to improve on the designs of our equipment, as well as test and refine prototypes, and develop gear that is custom built for our application. Having a reputable experienced guide staff that has traveled the world doing their profession gives us an advantage when selecting equipment. Because manufacturers value our opinion, they work endlessly to ensure that our company is outfitted with only premium gear that will not fail during intense use. Many lower end rafting companies try to squeeze every day, and thus every dollar, from their equipment; often utilizing it beyond it's lifespan. At Triad we make a commitment to purchase only the highest quality equipment, and for any reason, if that equipment becomes unfit for our needs, we dispose of it, because we cannot take the risk of equipment failure while on the river. Failed equipment not only puts our guides and guests at risk of life and limb, it also often becomes litter and degrades the purity of the river corridor and ultimately destroys the environment which we are out sharing with our guests. Triad refuses to utilize equipment which is below our stringent professional standards.
3 Ethical Principles of Safety
- Operate only researched safety protocol systems which are continually practiced, refined, and audited by third party experts
- Always be up to date on river conditions and if necessary perform a scouting trip prior to commercial operations
- Communicate to our guests what our rescue procedures will be and provide a thorough and interactive safety talk
Minimalism: For years rafting was often referred to as the "float and bloat", where outfitting companies would provide table-side lunches, equipped with coolers, boxes of bread and potato chips, and soft drinks for everyone. This type of trip has long since run it's course. Statistics in our industry have shown clearly that the safest trip is the one done quickly, efficiently, with the guests and guides focused on successful completion of the route. Adding additional equipment makes rafts less safe by making them heavier, with more hard surfaces (coolers, boxes, frames) for guests to crash into. Furthermore, in the Cascade Mountain Range, hypothermia is perhaps our greatest risk to human safety. Spending more time on land, with people sitting around eating sandwiches not only slows blood flow, but utilizes needed paddling and rescue energy for digestion while guests go down the river. The practice of feeding guests half way down a river section is, for us, reserved only for extended trips, and is usually not a part of our itineraries, and often represents a departure from our values of environmental awareness and intimate minimalist nature experiences.
We have often heard the term "leave no trace", and for rafters that often simply means not to litter on the beaches; but we take this a few steps further. Humans have an odor that can change the behavior of animals that inhabit river corridors. Small bits of food can attract bugs and change the eco-system from the smallest organisms up. Leaving footprints on beaches obscures and tramples over the tracks of wild animals, and the obnoxious formation of "cairns" on the side of the river by humans leaves an otherwise natural landscape changed by human hands.
Triad River Tours goes to great effort to ensure that our safety procedures are effective and fast. In any emergency situation we will not hesitate to pull our trip to the side of the river, hike through the woods, or drive our rescue vehicle through a passable jeep trail, but we do not unnecessarily stop on the side of the river. We believe that the greatest vantage point to witness the majesty of nature is from a raft as it glides down the silky waters of the river system. From here we can witness and experience the wonder of nature without effectively changing it in any way. As a result, we can run more people down the river while causing less harm to these pristine places, so that they can be preserved for generations to come, and humans that inhabit the earth after we have all passed on can experience the same empowering and spiritually gratifying experience in these wild places as we are able to have now.
3 Ethical Principles of Minimalism
- Always operate trips in areas that have been properly surveyed for environmental impact and teach "leave no trace" ethics to guests
- Never leave equipment at the river, utilize rescue kayakers to retrieve any equipment that is used in a rescue
- Disallow any potential litter on any raft trip in the form of disposable plastic bottles, candy or energy bar wrappers, etc.
Triad River Tours operates under federal, state, and local laws with permits by the following
Permits on the Skykomish, Skagit, Sauk, and Nooksack Rivers are provided by The United States Forest Service
Permit on the Upper Skagit River is provided by The National Parks Service
Permit at Howard Miller Steelhead Park is provided by Skagit County Parks and Recreation
Permit at Big Eddy on the Skykomish River is provided by Washington State Parks
Triad River Tours is thankful for the efforts of our Industry Partners
Rafts manufactured in the USA by Maravia
Rescue Kayaks are manufactured by Pyranha Kayaks
Rescue PFDs are provided by Astral Designs
Equipment is provided by Northwest River Supply
Lead Guides are trained by Swiftwater Safety Institute
Preferred Medical training provider is Remote Medical International
Expedition Backcountry Trips are done in partnership with Mountain River Outfitters