The River Dranse is one of the most beautiful and important natural features in the area. Jeremy Helvic & Natalie Elvy established Frogs Rafting in 2010 to offer rafting trips and other activities to holiday makers and local people. Here Jeremy tells us about a day in the life of a river rafter.
“I was born in Normandy and I started kayaking when I was at school there. I first rafted on the Isere River while I was working as a kayak teacher. As a treat on the last day of the course we took all the kids rafting. It’s such a great way to introduce beginners to the river as they can be close to it without worrying about having to negotiate anything tricky – that’s the guide’s job!
Natalie and I decided to open our first rafting base in Morzine as it’s right between the River Giffre in Samoens and the River Dranse. Being here means that we can easily get from one river to the other if we fancy a change of scenery. Both rivers are quite different. The Dranse is controlled by a hydroelectric dam, which means that there’s always water released, even when it’s a dry summer. We can always be sure of water in the Dranse! The Giffre is a bit gentler, but there’s no dam so we’re limited at the end of the summer if there’s not enough water to raft in.
We also decided on Morzine because, from a business point of view, the Office de Tourisme has made a big effort to promote the village as a holiday destination during the summer time, rather than just in the winter. Even in the last couple of years we’ve noticed an increase in the number of people coming here on summer holidays, which is great for everyone.
My favourite time of day on the river is in the morning, before the water released by the dam further up stream arrives at our take off point. As the water arrives you see the level and noise of the water increase little by little. It’s as if the river is waking up, and it’s weirdly exciting!
To take people down the river in France we are required by law to hold the appropriate French certifications and insurance, and we’re checked randomly each season to ensure that we’re complying. I’ve got quite a few qualifications and certificates for rafting, and we’re also obliged to make sure all of our equipment, from the boats to the life jackets, and the helmets to the wetsuits are in good order. The French guidelines for rafting equipment are some of the strictest in the world!
Regardless of whether our customers are hydrospeeding, cano-rafting, airboating or rafting, I take a good look at the river before every trip we do. Even when you think you know the river well, it changes all the time and there can be surprises, especially if it has rained heavily and rocks have moved or branches fallen. Assuming everything looks good, I’ll run through a safety briefing, which always includes how to swim in white water – feet first, on your back, looking downstream in case you’re wondering! I also stress the importance of listening to the river guide more than other group members in the raft! I encourage everyone to jump out of the boat and get themselves wet – this reassures everyone that falling out of the boat isn’t that bad, as the safety equipment does its job.
The number of raft trips I do each day depends on how long the dam on the Dranse is open. While there’s plenty of water we can run three trips a day, as the dam is open from 8.30am until 5pm. But when it’s dry and there’s less water collected in the dam, usually at the end of the summer, it opens later in the day, perhaps between 10am and 2pm. When this happens, we’ll only run one or two trips in a day, as it’s not much fun racing against a falling water level!
When people book their rafting trip with us, we ask if they are families or groups of friends. We can tailor the intensity of a rafting trip depending on who’s in the boat. For a real adrenaline trip, where everyone is over 16 and are good swimmers, we’ll suggest rather the pro-rafting trip which includes a class iv rapid, or one of our other activities such as hydrospeeding, where you’re in the water with a big float (that you lie on, a bit like a body board!) and flippers and you follow the guide downstream
Rafting is a versatile activity and generally our customers are up front about what kind of trip they’re after! Our customers pace the trip – they are the paddlers so they are in charge of the thrills and spills!
There’s a load of wildlife on the Dranse. I always look out for Beavers and point out any gnawed trees and their dams as we head down the river. There are all sorts of birds too, and plenty of jumping fish. My favourite birds are the Dippers. They are the little fat black and white birds and they are so territorial that you see the same ones every day. They fly along beside the raft so they can keep an eye on us to make sure we dont go too close to their nests. The Dranse gorge is also pretty spectacular from a geological point of view. I point out the different types of stones, the boulders and interesting eroded pinnacles, which make great obstacles in the river!
Rafting is probably the only ‘all weather’ activity you can enjoy in the mountains during the summer time. Kayakers and rafters love the rain! And what better way to be dressed on a wet day than in a wetsuit?”
For more information on the range of summer activities offered by Frogs, which also include gorge walking and rock climbing, visit their website or call Natalie or Jeremy on +33 (0) 6 09 30 80 77.