Emma Longcope

Active Life Editor

The water level in Colorado’s rivers right now is prime for whitewater adventures. CC’s Outdoor Education department is sending out sweet rafting and kayaking trips, forecasts look good, and paddlers everywhere are stoked. But are they safe? Absolutely, thanks to a Swiftwater Rescue course three students and two Outdoor Education staff members took last weekend.


The participants spent seven intensive hours each day on the waters of Waterton Canyon on the nearby and familiar South Platte River learning from the expert instructors from Downstream Edge. They acquired or refreshed a variety of specialized skills that can be applied to rescue situations on the river.


The learning was uniquely hands-on, intensive, and immersive. The program was scenario-based, ensuring action and practice for all.


“It made a big impact actually getting to experience what it is like swimming in whitewater, belaying a person across the current, being pinned against a rock, trying to unclip ropes in the current, or having to make on-the-fly decisions while victims are floating by!” said Outdoor Education Specialist Neal Smeltzer.


Patricia Chan, Assistant Director of Outdoor Education, also raved about the experiential nature of the course.


“In one scenario, our instructor swam out to a tiny rock in the middle of the river to be a ‘victim’ for us to rescue,” Chan said. “This rescue task involved swimming across the river to the opposite shore and setting up two separate lines to lower a rescuer to the victim in the middle of river and bring them to shore.”


“The course was really an eye opener for me as to all the variables that go into whitewater rescue situations,” Smeltzer said. “Everything became that much more real.”


Sophomore Bennett Silverman took the course to check off requirements to lead whitewater trips for the ORC, to increase his confidence on the water, and to prepare himself for summer work as a rafting guide.


“It was both exciting to swim through whitewater and comforting to know that being in a Swiftwater course is the perfect place to learn from your mistakes,” Silverman said.


Chan took a Swiftwater Rescue course three or four years ago and said taking it again and refreshing skills has been “extremely valuable.”


“As each river and each situation that you’ll encounter will be different, the course focuses on helping students build a repertoire of skills to pick and choose from when it comes down to it,” she said.


Receiving instruction in Swiftwater Rescue is a logical and prudent step for those who are looking to guide or who just want to increase confidence and know-how.


The course has been offered multiple times in the past and will hopefully become a longstanding tradition. If you’re interested in staying safe on the water, keep your eyes peeled for more information!


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