Emily Baking a Cake While on a Trip Through the Grand Canyon

How did you find yourself at Holiday?

My aunt was a photographer for Holiday in the 90s, among many other epic pursuits that were influential and inspiring for me. When I asked her where I should begin a career in the outdoor industry, she told me about a place that  “runs like butter.” A few months later, I found my hands churning those red Holiday oars for the first time! 

What years did you spend guiding? / Do you still do river trips?

My summers at Holiday (’12-’15) were mixed into my college years, supplemented by a robust whitewater program at school in the off-seasons. While I’ve jumped around since then, guiding has been a constant thread in my life, including leading river trips for people with disabilities on the American River in California and instructing guide schools and field courses for hundreds of students across the West. Starting my guiding journey with Holiday certainly led to a lifelong passion for river-running both professionally and personally. Last year, I squeezed in trips on the San Juan, Desolation Canyon, and the shoots of Muddy Creek, as well as an epic Westwater trip with Holiday! 

What is something you learned while at Holiday that has stuck with you and been valuable to life beyond the river?

While it’s great to be in beautiful, unique places, what matters most is who you’re with. From private river trips to my day-to-day desk job, I’m grateful to be surrounded by people who are supportive, prioritize kindness and humanity, and like to have some fun. When you’re with the right people, everything falls into place. 

Emily Ford rowing through Lodore Canyon

Emily Rowing on the Green River Through the Gates of Lodore

What is your favorite stretch of river that you have been on?

Lodore – the geology, the wildlife, the confluence, the hikes – I just keep comin’ back.

What do you miss most from guiding?

I miss the continuity of a full season living in the canyons, getting to know certain rocks, trees, nesting birds, constellations, and water levels; then witnessing all of these things change trip after trip, and noticing how I change with the season, too. 

What advice or sentiment would you share with young guides working today?

Above all guiding pursuits – rapids run, seasons spent – make your river community inclusive, accessible, and safe to people of all abilities, bodies, beliefs, and identities. A river can meet anyone exactly where they’re at – it’s the humans that have the potential to deny or advocate for equitable access to these life-giving places, experiences, and leadership on the water.  

Emily Ford rowing on the American River

Emily Rowing First Threat on the American River

Do you have a favorite memory of Dee? Sue? Tim? Frogg?

During my first year at Holiday, warehouse work could get pretty monotonous when everyone was out running trips all the time. I remember a quiet day when Sue joined me for folding heaps of laundry. As we worked our way through sleeping bags, pillow cases, and muddy ponchos, she told me stories about river-running. She taught me how – through Holiday – I was connected to my desert heros (a list of people that quickly grew during those years), as well as the fact that maybe I had some room for improvement when it came to fluffing pillows and folding rain gear. 

What’s your most memorable story from a river trip?

While many exciting rapid/rescue stories come to mind, there are no better river stories than the ones about falling in love. With canyons, with people, and everything in between. Cliche, but you know it’s true if it’s happened to you. 

Do you have a story to share about a positive experience with a guest? 

So many! I always love when there are kids on Holiday trips. From building interactive watersheds in the sand, to teaching rowing, and all the joys of camping and exploring in the canyons – their energy and interest is such a positive addition to a trip. Once, some kids led ‘spa night’ on the boats and painted all the guides’ toes.

Where do you call home? / What are you up to these days? 

I love calling Utah home, where I spend lots of time birding, writing, and being outside.