Student stories

Recreation and health education student connects adventure and accessibility in Rocky Mountain work term

Sarah Cole

Travel Alberta

Recreation and health education student Sarah Cole spent a summer work term in the Rocky Mountains, where she worked for Travel Alberta. When she wasn't helping visitors of all abilities explore the great outdoors, Sarah had lots of opportunity to work and play in the great outdoors herself. Sarah reflects on her co-op experence below.

Working for Travel Alberta

My latest co-op work term was based in the majestic Canadian Rockies, where I worked as a travel counsellor at the Yoho National Park Visitor Centre. The agency I worked for is called Travel Alberta, a tourism company with a goal to promote visitation to the province of Alberta through their visitor centres and social media outlets across the province.  An important part of my job included collecting statistics about visitors such as where they are visiting from, how many people they are traveling with, and their previous and future destinations within and outside of the province.

Life as a travel counsellor

As a travel counsellor I acted as an ambassador for the area; this included the entire province of Alberta but focused mainly on the National Parks such as Banff, Jasper, Yoho, and Kootenay. Living and working in Lake Louise for four months provided me with local insight and expertise that helped me engage with visitors and help them plan unique and memorable experiences. By listening and asking questions, I was able to identify visitor needs and share services and experiences that were in alignment with their interests. Many of my consultations also involved guidance on hiking trails, routes and attractions. Exploring the area on my own and through company-led familiarization tours helped me with my work significantly, but also gifted me incredible opportunities and experiences. The familiarization tours that I participated in included white water rafting, gondola rides, horseback riding, Via Ferratas (rock climbing), and a helicopter ride and guided hike. On my days off I traversed the Rockies on my own by hiking and summiting mountains, going on camping trips, kayaking, canoeing, and cycling.

Making adventure accessible

Working closely with Parks Canada employees, I was able to compile a list of accessible places for people with different abilities. I was also able to bring attention to the fact that there is very little information on accessibility in the Canadian Rockies online, so unless visitors personally come to the visitor centre they would not have access to this information. Many of our pamphlets, maps and brochures also had very limited information about accessibility. Moving forward, I plan to write to both Travel Alberta and Parks Canada regarding this issue, especially as the tourism industry must start considering an aging population.

What I learned from my co-op work term

Although my placement didn’t initially seem to be in direct alignment with my future career plans of becoming an occupational therapist, this position was pivotal in improving my interpersonal skills in a frontline, guest-facing role. I took this position because I knew it would move me outside of my comfort zone; living in a rural, isolated mountain town had its challenges, but learning to adapt to this kind of environment was also a learning opportunity for me and is certainly a transferrable skill I will take with me in my future career. Climbing mountains can also be mentally stimulating and draining, which is why I consider myself mentally stronger after this summer. Learning to trust myself and keep a positive mental state in uncomfortable situations is an important quality that I know will help me in my future endeavors—both personal and professional.

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