Vermont’s Outdoor Guides

Here’s How Vermont’s Outdoor Guides Take Outings to the Next Level

Sometimes, the best way to make tracks in Vermont is to follow in someone’s footsteps.

Whether you are new to the sport or new to the terrain, outdoor adventures like hiking, biking, canoeing, snowshoeing, or ice climbing can be a valuable experience with a Vermont guide. An experienced fly fishing guide, for example, can help lift the guesswork and nervousness so you can spend your vacation having fun. “I take people right up to the edge of their comfort zone and extend it with them. Allowing them to feel like they’re starting from a place that’s well within their comfort zone makes people more attracted to the experience,” said Travis Dezotell, owner of Island Pond-based Gibbs Guides.

“(Some people) will sit back and want to do an experience, but when it comes down to getting out and doing it, people shy away because they don’t want to look bad.”

Guides make both new outdoor experiences and Vermont’s terrain accessible and fun for all skill levels and abilities.

Often, Dezotell says, his customers are new to Vermont, new to outdoor sports, or new to both, and his job is to ensure they stay safe, have fun, and maybe even discover a new favorite activity.

Dezotell remembers a group of nine women who worked with him to plan a camping and canoeing trip a few years ago.

“It was striking how they really gained massive amounts of confidence in themselves. Most of them had never been in a boat before. By the end of it, they were quite capable of getting themselves through rapids,” he said.

Outdoor guides often arrange for lodging, any necessary equipment, and some transportation, like boats or planes, in addition to hands-on help during the experience.

Graydon Stevens, executive director of Vermont Outdoor Guide Association, says visitors can benefit from an outdoor guide’s knowledge and experience of Vermont’s terrain and other outdoor businesses. Vermont’s guides offer many diverse adventures such as sky diving, scuba diving, dogsledding, and hiking.

“In this fast-paced world, visitors often don’t have time to plan outings and some don’t have the gear or skills but still want the adventure. Today’s outdoor professionals can provide gear, leadership, safety and technique instruction, and outdoor ethics, and even throw in stories on local natural and human history.”

Visitors looking for fly fishing guides will find they leave with more than just fish; they’ll also come away with knowledge they can put to use next time they head out. Capt. Matthew Trombley owns and operates 3rd Alarm Charters, a year-round guide and charter fishing business with three boats based in central Vermont and serving Rutland County and the Killington and Okemo areas. While Trombley notes his high catch rate on his tours, he points out a good guide service offers more than just the experience itself. They’ll also help visitors gain some starter knowledge so they can then venture out on their own.

“Going with an established guide will shorten the learning curve on what species to target during certain times of the year,” Trombley said. “They not only help you catch fish, but should also provide a friendly atmosphere and experience about local landmarks, flora and fauna as well as the target areas on the bodies of water they might offer trips on.”

Dezotell says many of his clients head home already thinking about the next time they’ll drop a line, hit the snowshoeing trail or pick up a paddle.

Trombley recommended guests looking to hire a guide first visit VOGA to take advantage of the Vermont Outdoor Guide Association’s resources.

Stevens suggests connecting with the guide ahead of time to ensure fit and share information about your health, experience, and skill level so the difficulty of the program matches your ability..

“Outdoor professionals have years of experience and training and are eager to share their knowledge and activities with you. They know the terrain, local resources, and can provide enjoyable adventures while saving you time in planning your vacation. They want you to have the best ‘time out’ possible,” Stevens said.

Making friends and meeting other people of color was the hardest part of living in Vermont. That is, until I started noticing outdoor affinity group meet-ups around the state. In January of 2021, a friend invited me to an Inclusive Ski Day at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center. Organizers provided an information session on what to wear and bring beforehand and then day passes, cross- country ski gear, and lessons if needed to attendees the day of. I took my ski-swap-purchased gear to the event and got helpful advice on how to improve my stride. I also had one of those funny post-pandemic moments where you meet someone in person whom you’ve only ever seen on Zoom until then. It is hard to describe how relaxed it felt to be in the company of other BIPOC skiers out in the Northeast Kingdom. It’s as if there was always a sound of static in the background and an underlying feeling of tension that was turned off and I noticed the quiet. I thoroughly enjoyed myself down to my bones.

At that first ski event, I also met Sung-Hee Chung, the founder of Powered Magazine, a lifestyle brand devoted to showing not just representation in the outdoors, but BIPOC folks finding joy in the outdoors. Powered’s mission is to magnify the full spectrum of identities that represent outdoor lovers and to promote physical, mental, and social wellbeing in communities of color through engagement in the outdoors. In the organization’s own words, “Powered Magazine strives to build equitable outdoor space for all and to expand participation in outdoor recreation.”

Since I met Sung-Hee last winter I have enjoyed outings organized by Powered Magazine in every season. She is a passionate advocate for increasing access to the outdoors for youth and people of color. She is also highly motivating and I now have a weekly ski partner all winter long. I was honored to co-host two free birding events, with binoculars provided, put on by Powered and Audubon Vermont, where I work.

After one such event where we rode bikes from Local Motion and birded along the Burlington Bike Path to Rock Point, the group of us made a plan to meet at the Lake Champlain Community Sailing Center the following weekend to kayak to the same point. Powered organized kayaks for us and we paddled out onto the water just in time for the lake to go from perfectly calm to waves and wind battering our hulls, sending water crashing into our cockpits for a thorough soaking. Staff from the sailing center were great and came out to us on a motorboat, asking if we wanted to be towed in. We each let him know we were alright to make it in of our own power, at which point I proceeded to shout sea shanties into the wind, loving every second.

Programs with Powered also helped me get back to activities that weren’t new to me but were things that I hadn’t practiced recently like lap swimming and rock climbing. Powered’s “Inclusive Water Time” program brings BIPOC swimmers and non-swimmers together in a pool, to learn to swim or to improve their confidence and skills with an instructor. Swimming is such an important pastime in Vermont, everyone should have the opportunity to take lessons and to be comfortable in or on the water. Petra Cliffs in Burlington provided a good time for a group of us to climb indoors and outdoors, something I had been wanting to do since I moved here. The organized days of climbing meant that I didn’t have to feel embarrassed about being out of practice, because the other climbers ranged in skill level as well. It was empowering to have folks cheer each other on as we reached higher and higher up the wall.

Affinity groups like Powered Magazine provide opportunities that are scaffolded to support folks to either try something new in a low-risk way or to participate with others without judgment. Programs that strive for inclusive access to the outdoors, that provide a level of safety to participants, and that lower barriers of entry to outdoor recreation will help more Vermonters and visitors to Vermont get outside any time of year.