Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Choosing an Outfitter

If there is one thing true in today's tech-savvy world it is this: a slick website can make anyone look good. Thus, judging one outfitter versus another via their websites can be a daunting task. This is especially true if you are new to the activity or haven’t received a recommendation from friends. Every season, at least one major magazine or newspaper publishes a “how to pick an outfitter” article chock full of softball questions that don’t accomplish much. With some time to kill at the Boise airport, I asked myself: What five REAL questions would I ask outfitters if I knew nothing about them?

#5. Can you send me your menu?
Any entree that contains the word “imitation” is a bad sign. Canned three bean salad is a bad sign. Most outfitters are proud of their menus and shouldn't hesitate to send it to you.

#4. If I can’t go with your outfit, who would you suggest I call?
Great companies don’t hesitate to recommend other great companies. The best ones are often full but still want you to have the best trip possible and will tend to recommend peers.

#3. What is your company’s policy about your staff using tobacco products?
Our guides do not use any tobacco products. We long ago recognized that on family trips guides were often role models and using tobacco was not acceptable. If an outfitter hasn't addressed this issue with their staff, I'd be hesitant to take their trip.

#2. What do you charge?
Be suspicious of low prices and curious about high prices. There are only so many ways to save money in outfitting. Guide to passenger ratios, guide wages (you want well paid, knowledgeable guides), food costs, length of trip. Prices substantially below the norm are red flags.

#1. What kind of wine do you provide and where does it come from?

In my opinion, this is one of the best questions you can ask and it will tell you a lot about the care and detail that goes into an outfitter's planning. Idaho is not on the list of the world's famous wine regions and I'd be wary of any company that touts them as being equal to California's. This is one of those attention to detail queries and deserves a good answer beyond “we serve the best from Idaho.” Even if you don't drink wine, ask the question.

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