At age 20, Lisa Gooding is already a six-year veteran of the tourism industry. At 14, she was working at an aquarium in her native Dorset, England. When she was 16, her family moved to British Columbia’s Comox Valley, where she was hired as a dive master at a scuba shop. “Since I’ve always worked in tourism, I thought it would be a good idea to get into the business aspect of it,” she says.
To that end, Gooding took the 16-month tourism management diploma at Capilano University in North Vancouver. A Capilano instructor told her class about the go2hr.ca website. “I’d always check it out to see what was out there, even before I was job hunting,” she says. When Gooding completed her diploma in December 2009, she logged on to go2HR and found a job posting that seemed unusual and exciting. “It was the first job I applied for, and I got a call-back right away. I got hired on for the Olympics by Ziptrek Ecotours, working at Robson Square.”
To explain for those who didn’t experience it firsthand or see it on TV, Ziptrek Ecotours set up two “ziplines” that ran 52 metres, from an eight-storey launch tower, over Robson Street in downtown Vancouver. A run took only 20 seconds, yet Ziptrek accommodated as many as 80 people per hour who wanted to zip along the line in a special harness. “The maximum wait was nine and a half hours,” says Gooding. “The best part of it was that every person, even if they were waiting nine and a half hours in the rain, would say it was worth it when they came off.”
Gooding’s work, qualifications and personality impressed Ziptrek, who offered her a post-Games position as a zipline guide at Whistler. She completed a 16-hour St. John Ambulance first-aid course and underwent two weeks of rigorous zipline training. “This is a very physical job,” she says. “The training really helped me. There isn’t a national certification for ziplining. It’s done within the company. It’s pretty intense. You’re taught soft skills and actual technical skills. Although it was only two weeks, we felt very confident and comfortable going into the job.”
Ziptrek Ecotours employs as many as 140 people during its peak summer season. Depending on her specific assignment, shift duties and the time of year, Gooding can work 10-hour days, with four days on and three days off. There are two zipline routes at Whistler – each involves five ziplines through and over the forest. Each trek lasts two and a half hours and will accommodate up to 10 participants. “We have families, corporate groups, bachelorette parties, a whole range of people. The oldest we had was 92,” says Gooding. Each group has two guides, who alternate between launching the guests and landing them safely. “In between ziplining, you’re getting a guided tour of the rainforest,” says Gooding.
“I’ve never worked for a company where I’ve felt so respected,” she says with real enthusiasm. “Everybody takes their jobs very seriously, but they’re still willing to have fun with it. The managers are really supportive, and every time we get a good reference from a guest, they’ll tell us about it. That makes you want to work that much harder.”
For those interested in such a job, Gooding recommends education in tourism or outdoor recreation. The right personality is essential. “At the end of the day, you have to be just as happy and smiley as you are with the first customer of the day. They’ve come up to do that tour and they deserve your respect. And you have to have the personality to deal with people who might not be the happiest customers.”
Ziptrek Ecotours also has a facility in Queenstown, New Zealand. During Whistler’s winter season, some zipline guides head for the southern hemisphere’s summer. “The company is definitely open to transfers between locations,” says Gooding. While New Zealand is an option, Gooding says, “I’d like to work my way around the tourism industry in BC. I love it, I’m enjoying this, and I’ll always keep working with people. It’s definitely all about networking, and I want to see where that takes me.”