‘Being a raft guide is always a riot’
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Solomon Liston, a 36-year-old whitewater raft guide, has experienced everything from flipping over to life-threating situations.
Liston, a Glenwood Springs native, lives and breathes tourism. He has been a whitewater raft guide with Whitewater Rafting LLC for 13 years. As a guide and often trip leader, he is a constant promoter of Glenwood Springs and uses his upbeat and quirky sense of humor to help guests enjoy their trip to the fullest.
“Being a raft guide is always a riot. You get so many people on your raft from so many different backgrounds and from all over the world,” he said. “Colorado is such a lifestyle state, people move to Colorado for a specific lifestyle — to enjoy the outdoors and to have this balance of work and passion for the outdoors.”
For Liston, sharing this lifestyle with guests is the best part.
“About five or six years ago, I had a group of mothers and daughters [who] left their husbands and boyfriends at home for two weeks. They were probably one of the most rowdy groups I have ever had on my boat. I couldn’t remember their names and they all gave each other fake names for the trip. They were such a riot and they had so much fun.
“It’s endless… There was this Latina mother that got on my raft and she was literally crying she was so scared, but she suddenly wanted to do this. I got to watch the transition from getting on the boat with tears going down her face and clinging onto the raft for dear life and then watching her start to release the hold and relax into the flow of the river and embrace the adventure of it.”
By the end of the trip, that woman was on the front of the boat with her feet dangling off the front. In the rafting world this is known as “Riding the Bull” — she was sitting on the nose of the boat taking in all the waves laughing.
“It’s neat to watch that transition and that growth somebody takes,” he said.
Liston was on a commercial trip and this guy fell into the river. He was in his 50s and on medication, Liston said.
“I think it was the shock of the cold river and the exhilaration that put his heart into some sort of… I don’t know what it was and I don’t know what the doctors said, but when we got to Grizzly Creek, he was blue and not breathing. We ended up doing CPR on him for about 25 minutes and he lived.
“It wasn’t necessarily a river incident. Yes it happened on the river, but there were other factors involved. His wife said to me, ‘I am so glad you were there and that this happened around professionals.’ That is the most serious situation in the history of Whitewater,” he said.
Growing up, Liston spent a lot of time on the river with his four siblings. They would go tubing and float down the river in their life jackets. His parents did a lot of canoeing in their earlier years of marriage. For their honeymoon, they canoed the Boundary Waters, so there has always been that outdoor edge in his family.
Three of his four siblings have also been raft guides. So when they take family trips, Liston admits he is a back-seat driver. “When we do go rafting by default my older brother Caleb is the guide. I mean, we will take turns and when I am not guiding I am ‘Riding the Bull.’”
Liston enjoys every adventure he has had on the river. “I remember a group of 20-year-olds who were so energetic. We were hitting all the big waves and having a blast, and this lateral wave came and corkscrewed us around. We were all back in the boat in eight minutes but one of the girls was having so much fun she couldn’t get back in the boat and of course I was nervous, legs shaking and all,” he said.
WHEN SOLOMON IS NOT RAFTING, HE IS …
Besides his summer rafting gig, he is an independent business owner for Amway Marketing and he runs his own tourism consulting business known as The Best of Glenwood Springs. He focuses on helping hospitality businesses succeed in a technological world.
“In this world of technology, it’s all about the social media and all the review sites such as Trip Advisor and Yelp. They are fantastic tools, but they are only tools…they are not any replacement of relationship that a business develops with their clientele. The whole foundation of businesses is to serve a need and to be of value and this is all developed on relationships. I focus on the relational component of the industry,” he said.
No wonder Liston was nominated as a 2015 Outstanding Frontline Tourism Worker. He was recognized for his dedication and hard work in attracting visitors to Colorado.
“I had just finished a hospitality leadership training at Hotel Denver that the chamber sponsored. Lisa Langer from the chamber said I was nominated for this. I was shocked; I had no idea and didn’t expect it all. I got home and checked my emails and there were all these emails from the Colorado Tourism Office. I would have probably deleted them if I didn’t get a heads up,” he said with a laugh.
Liston explained that we still live in a world of relationships and, through relationships, connections develop.
“Relationships speak so much louder than anything else out there. Growing up in Glenwood Springs I want to share the love I have for this town with people because I want them to enjoy it as I have enjoyed it. I want them to have the experience I have experienced and it’s done through developing those relationships with them,” he said.
About eight years ago, Liston and a friend from Denver got together. His friend wanted to go rafting and they couldn’t find anyone to go so they put together this invite to the gay community and created a yearly trip called the “Big Gay Raft Trip.”
“Growing up here, I came out when I was 16. It was a great time to come out. I have always been supported and I’ve always been welcomed. I thought it was time to show the LGBT community that Glenwood is a welcoming spot. The first year we had like 36 people, the next year about 70, and since then it’s only increased. Three years ago we ended up splitting it into two groups — the big water and lazy river. It’s a fun time we go to the hot springs, have dinner, spend a day on the river and more. We participate in the community. It’s all about sharing my love and my growing up in this town with people and showing them it’s a great place to be. It’s just a riot,” he said.
The big water event happened earlier this month, but the lazy river will take place Aug. 21-23.
THE SCAVENGER HUNT
Glenwood has had a souvenir cartoon map for a couple of years. When Liston worked at Hotel Glenwood Springs and Hotel Denver, he was never a fan of the map. Earlier this year Bridgette Maxwell with Maxwell Publishing approached him asking if he would be of assistance of the map — at first he said no. He then asked if she would consider revamping the map and she was all for it.
“She just really gave me the reigns to help work with the designer on what would be effective. And being on the relational side of marketing, I didn’t want just a map to handout I needed a touch point — I needed something where a business could say, ‘Oh, you’re visiting here, welcome and thanks for stopping in, here is something free you can do,’” he said.
This map can be found in downtown Glenwood and inside there is a restaurant, hotel and retail directory, a local activities guide and a history scavenger hunt. The scavenger hunt is based on the historical plaques that the Historical Society has helped with. This activity draws attention to the history of Glenwood.
“It helps expand people’s history and ownership and relationship with Glenwood Springs itself as a town. As we learn about people and a town we develop connections with them. There is sort of a two fold it gives businesses a chance to develop a talking point — one on one [owner to guest] and then this gives the guests the opportunity to develop a relationship with the town by going around and exploring and learning the fun little facts of history through here. It’s a touch point — there encouraged to take selfies and post them on social media using #visitglenwood. There is a little tracking that way — it’s sort of a test run this first year but they seem to be well received. Before the maps were printed Glenwood natives loved it, ‘I’ve learned more about Glenwood with this map then I knew before.’”
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