Recently I mentioned current rafting deaths on the Arkansas River and my own earlier experience with a flack for the Colorado commercial rafting industry.
Subsequently, the Denver Post weighed in with the story of a deadly trip through "The Numbers" rapids above Buena Vista. Some tour operators spoke of the difficulty of profiling clients and their ability to handle rough water.
The flip side of that issue, however -- which the Post ignores -- is that river guides can run a given stretch smoothly or give the clients an exciting, pinball-machine ride that generates bigger tips. The guides call the practice "Bash for Cash."
Another issue that Post writer Scott Willoughby skirts is the whole commercialization of extreme sport. It is supposed to be scary -- but completely safe. A little bit of a contradiction, wouldn't you say?
"'Shit Happens': The Selling of Risk in Extreme Sport," a paper by Catherine Palmer, takes a deeper look at the phenomenon of "veteran guides [who] will ensure your safety." (Australian Journal of Anthropology, 13:3, 323-36.)
On the one hand, the tour guides are presented as being very particular kinds of experts; fearless adventurers, capable of meeting any challenge, yet, on the other hand, [through] the same discourse of extremity runs the line that anyone can do it."
Bash for cash. Flip for tips.
Dan Mannix, an American writer who worked for a time in a carnival sideshow (fire-eating, sword-swallowing, escape tricks) discusses scary carnival rides in his bookStep Right Up:
Captain BIlly told me that the closer a ride came to murdering the people who got into it, the more popular it was.
(Scroll to the bottom of the page linked above for photos of Mannix and his fellow carnies.)