• Tara Snow is aquatics assistant manager at Smugglers Notch Resort. She is a lifeguard instructor and Certified Pool Operator. Snow is responsible for hiring, training and managing a staff of 20 to 100 aquatics professionals, depending on the season.
    Tara Snow is aquatics assistant manager at Smugglers’ Notch Resort. She is a lifeguard instructor and Certified Pool Operator. Snow is responsible for hiring, training and managing a staff of 20 to 100 aquatics professionals, depending on the season.

It was my first summer as an aquatics host at Rumrunners’ Hideaway (aka The Rez), an idyllic snow-making pond at a mountain resort in Vermont. The swimming area is approximately 6,000 square feet of water 8 to 14 feet deep. Strong swimming ability is a must, though personal flotation devices were available.

Coincidentally, it was also the year we debuted the AquaJump, a water-friendly trampoline with interactive attachments. The AquaJump was anchored in the deepest end of the water, and guests had to be strong swimmers to use the it.

Luckily, due to its remote location and deep water, The Rez typically didn’t receive many visits from weak swimmers. However, this year, as a result of publicity on the joys of the AquaJump, there were more guests than usual, with many coming solely to use the AquaJump with young children of questionable swimming ability. It was often difficult explaining to guests why the children couldn’t use the attraction. The situation all came to a head at summer’s end.

I was canoeing over to the docks when I heard shouting between the primary lifeguard and a woman. She and her husband had brought their five sons to play on the AquaJump. The youngest couldn’t swim and was denied access. He went back to his mother in tears, but rather than going to the dock to speak with a guard, she shouted questions and arguments from the observation deck. Three of the four lifeguards on duty were performing surveillance; the fourth was on break and too afraid to approach the woman. The shouting just increased the guest’s agitation.

I’m a “take the bull by the horns” kind of person, so I had no qualms. The shouting ceased when we exchanged pleasantries and I asked her what the problem was. Turns out, this was the family’s final getaway before she went into the hospital for a slew of unpleasant medical procedures. The woman was stressed about her health and its effect on her family. She confessed that as a child she had nearly drowned and was rescued by a lifeguard. Also, her youngest son had almost drowned as an infant. She was very apprehensive around water, but wanted her family to have a good time.

After chatting with her for 30 minutes, I was able to use the near-drowning experiences to convince her that the lifeguards weren’t being rude; they were simply trying to keep everyone safe. Once she had a chance to tell her story, she was open to my suggestion: Take the youngest son on a paddle boat so they could be out on the water near the AquaJump and the family, but enjoy a unique experience of their own. Afterward, the youngest excitedly told his brothers about the paddle boat. When the woman and her family left, they thanked all of us and we parted as friends. They even left us a tip!

The Lessons

1. Get close. Address people face to face rather than shouting from a distance. It shows the guest you respect them. Introduce yourself and ask their name. Once you’re no longer strangers, you can address this issue in a respectful manner.

2. Get personal. Ask them to describe the problem, even if you think you know what it is. Often, underlying stress causes disproportionate reactions to rule enforcement. You’d be surprised what you can learn by listening!

3. Get the story. Find the lesson in their story. Here, I used the near-drownings to show the dangers of water. The woman felt that because there were lifeguards, it would be OK to put her son in this situation. I explained that a primary duty of a lifeguard is to recognize potential hazards and stop them before they happen. Once she talked about her issues, she was open to what I had to say.