When people rely on guides, whom do guides rely on?
The Redside Foundation is answering that question, providing education, training and support, including mental and physical health care and substance abuse counseling for often self-employed outdoor professionals. The organization serves Idaho and Montana guides, but has begun working in Jackson and is looking to start a Wyoming chapter.
Redside will host February Fling, a night of dinner, storytelling and prizes, from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday at the Elks Lodge. There will be a silent auction for guided trips and artwork, and Greg Cairns, a guide on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, will screen his award-winning film, “Dear Granny.”
“After seeing what the Redside Foundation has accomplished in Idaho, I have long imagined what they could do to support the guides of Jackson,” said Jamie Weeks, a longtime whitewater and snowboard guide in Wyoming and Idaho. “Nowhere in the U.S. is there a larger collection of hard-working people who earn their living providing guiding services than here in Jackson, Wyoming.”
Redside Foundation began in Idaho in 2010 in memory of Telly Evans, a popular and experienced Middle Fork guide who took his own life. In response, Redside formed to provide access to a free and confidential help line.
Redside awards college scholarships, provides training in swiftwater rescue and wilderness medicine, offers help with counseling and even assists guides with financial planning. Because let’s face it: While many guides can fly up a challenging pitch or breeze through a tricky rapid with impressive dexterity, they often are less skilled at navigating insurance or 401(k) retirement accounts.
And when the season is over, many guides experience a feeling of emptiness at no longer being needed or being the center of attention.
Shannon Walton, the organization’s executive director in Boise, used to live in Jackson and Driggs and guided on the Snake and at Grand Targhee. Walton said use of Redside’s services exploded last year, owed in part to the pandemic but also because of the growing realization among guides that it’s OK to seek help.
“Guides are starting to be more vulnerable with each other,” she said, referring specifically to mental health. “Being tough means being honest with themselves.”
Last summer Redside reached out to a fishing guide whose client drowned on the Snake River. No matter one’s level of training or experience — whether snowmobiling, rafting or climbing — mishaps occur in the field that can leave guides struggling for years.
Tickets for Saturday’s event cost $100 and are available at RedsideFoundation.org/events. All proceeds will go to the formation of a Wyoming chapter. Redside asks ticket holders to be vaccinated and to follow COVID-19 safety protocols; attendance will be limited to a third of the Elks Club’s capacity.