Sandra Riches loves the outdoors. A lot. Like many adventurous young people, however, Sandra was never totally sure if she could transform this passion into a reliable career. What she did do was just keep doing what she loved, and—unsurprisingly, perhaps—she soon found herself on a very exciting professional journey.
Originally from Ontario, Sandra ventured to B.C. after high school to work at a ski hill. “That’s when I realized it was a field I loved,” she says. Her next stop would be Capilano University’s Outdoor Recreation Management (OREC) program. “It was a perfect fit for me,” she says. “The teachers were awesome, and it definitely sent me on the right path.”
Since graduating from the OREC program in 1994, Riches has worn many hats in the world of outdoor recreation and safety, starting out as a park ranger covering Cypress Provincial Park, Mt. Seymour Provincial Park and Indian Arm Marine Provincial Park.
As a Park Ranger, Sandra’s year-round tasks included patrolling the backcountry, conducting wildlife resource management, even doing facility maintenance, trail building, public safety and avalanche assessments. During her twelve years working in the harsh, British Columbia wilderness, Sandra also dealt with her fair share of emergency situations. It was through these that she developed a close relationship with BC’s search and rescue teams, as well as a strong interest in promoting public outdoor safety.
Answering the call
When it came time for Sandra to take her next career step, she was naturally attracted to the work of the BC Search and Rescue Association (BCSARA), and soon entered a role with them as a program assistant and project manager, working out of the Justice Institute of BC, a post-secondary leader in public safety education. Here, she provided support, education and resources for 80 BCSARA teams across the province, whose aim is to keep locals and visitors safe in B.C.’s natural spaces.
Still madly in love with the outdoors, as well as the idea of sharing the experience with others, Sandra hasn’t limited herself to the BCSARA. In addition to this important work, she also worked part-time as a host and trail guide at the new Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish, a volunteer director of youth community outreach at the Avalanche Centre and a volunteer program coordinator for AdventureSmart, a national outreach program specializing in outdoor safety and search and rescue prevention.
Her role at AdventureSmart involves managing and training volunteers to give safety presentations to groups of students and hikers, bikers, boaters and snowmobilers. Under her lead, the program has been so successful, that it has now been expanded nationally, with Sandra on the national board of directors.
According to Sandra, all these organizations play a pivotal role in B.C.’s outdoor industry. “It’s really important for us to reduce the number and severity of search and rescue callouts in the province,” she says, “because we have more callouts here than anywhere else in the country.”
After two decades working in outdoor recreation, Sandra reflects on her thoughts and choices as a fresh grad from Capilano. She’s grateful now that she constantly placed herself in circles with like-minded people who were doing what she was interested in, and advises current students to be willing to work for the job that they want. “It takes a lot of effort, you have to really be on it, and you can hit a lot of closed doors. But I think throughout your career if you continue to strive for fields you love to work in, and keep making yourself visible, it will all work out.”
Submitted by Marketing & Communications