Name: Brooke Ranney
Company: Western River Outfitters LLC & Centennial Canoe Outfitters
Location: Palisade, CO
Tell me about your path to become an outfitter owner.
I started whitewater rafting in Eastern Tennessee at Smoky Mountain Outdoors as a guide for a couple seasons then moved to another company called Outdoor Adventures as a guide. Then I eventually moved into the office and started working with Jessica Booth, who is another woman owner. We got along really well. I started taking on more responsibilities for her. I started managing the office, then the scheduling of guides, and soon became the Operations Manager for her at Outdoor Adventures. It was a really great experience for me to see how she worked and… to see the ins and outs of the back end of running an outpost. It was an eye-opening experience.
After 4 years of doing that I decided that I wanted to explore other rivers out west, so I decided to move to Colorado. So, I came out to Colorado and started guiding for Arkansas Valley Adventures out of Granite, Colorado. I kept watching the photographers on the side of the river. Basically, they kayak down the river in the morning then post up and take pictures of all the rafting companies going by and then paddle out at the end of the day. That was intriguing to me. I ended up working as a whitewater photographer. It gave me a little break from dealing with customers to get to see another side of the industry and to see how each company worked and how they ran their trips. After that, I started working for Vail Resorts as a photo manager, so we took photos of skiers going down the mountain, and I started managing that department of 30 photographers. That was good for me to learn about the managerial side of a big operation. I ended up getting a job year-round, but I really missed the river and realized that was where I needed to be.
I got a job with the Eagle River Watershed Council in Eagle, Colorado as a Project & Events Coordinator. I didn’t know it at the time, but all this was adding up for me to gain experience in the river outfitter world. [During my time with the council], I got to see conservation side of things and what the rivers in the west need and how to get people excited about protecting rivers. One of the best ways to get people to be stewards of the river is to get them out there, to get them involved with the river doing restoration or doing float trips. After a couple years an opportunity popped up to purchase Centennial Canoe Outfitters. It really tied in everything that I love about rivers. We do educational float trips that focus on geology, history and anthropology and how people tie themselves to the rivers and how important they are to us in a community.
What’s your best memory from your time as a guide or outfitter?
One of my favorite experiences was recent- we took a school that was [comprised of] 96% free-or-reduced lunch kids, so a group of kids who are underprivileged- a lot of these kids had never camped before, let alone been on a river trip. We took them on a 3-day trip. We planned a whole lineup of things for them to do, including learning about the health of the river and educational hikes. At the end of each day we would do a recap to talk about things they learned, and these kids just teared up with excitement talking about their trip of a lifetime. They wouldn’t have been able to experience that if we hadn’t given them the opportunity. That really inspired me to keep doing what I am doing, and to keep introducing people to these places, especially kids who may not have that opportunity otherwise.
Tell me about your experience being a woman in the outdoor industry.
As a guide, it was tough to keep up. There’s a lot of hoops to jump through, a lot of tests to make sure you can do what the boys are doing. I have had a lot of support from my fellow guides and have been able to stand there with them loading boats, and when we’re going through a good rapid. So, I have been able to prove myself with the help of my co-workers. Everyone in the outdoor industry has a similar passion; through that passion we’ve been able to support each other. Once I got through my training year, I was accepted into that world and since then I’ve made some great relationships that have helped me grow. I have pushed myself to the limits as most women in this industry do. Luckily, I have the support of my team- everyone is awesome to work with.
Have you noticed any changes in the industry since you started?
When I first started, we had 3 women in my training group out of 30. We were the minority. The industry is opening to more women becoming guides and have moved forward with their careers. In the past, Jessica Booth was the only woman-owner I knew. Now with the America Outdoors Women’s Group, I think that pool is growing. And it has a lot to do with the time that we’re in with the Me Too & Times Up Movement, women are realizing their capacity to lead. Before we weren’t able to see that from mentors… it was few and far between that you would see a female owner in the industry. Now I see a lot more of it- I’m one of them who is stepping up and I probably wouldn’t have if I had not had that support and mentorship.
Tell me about your experience with the America Outdoors Women’s Group.
I got involved two years ago when we had the first meeting in Reno. I went to the session with other women in the industry. Man, it was such an energetic group. We really came up with a lot of great ideas. I think we were so excited that we may have had too many ideas come out at once. This past year I think we started to come up with a good plan of action for follow through. Having our Facebook page and emails and the opportunity to speak with one another and creating the mentorship program is going to be hugely helpful for other women to move up and progress in the industry. The next step is to continue to meet and connect with one another to talk about our issues and our successes... I am excited to see what the group will evolve into.