The idea of visiting Alpacka Raft in Mancos, Colorado which is where all Alpacka packrafts are hand crafted, has been on our mind for a long time.
Pretty much ever since we started packrafting and read about how Sheri and Thor Tingey started Alpacka Raft back in 2000, we wanted to meet them in person. Their story has always inspired us and after using Alpacka packrafts for years on our personal missions, and now partnering with them for our family business, our passion for the design and quality of Alpacka Raft has been growing steadily.
We have seen photos, read about it, have spent countless hours on Skype with Thor and Sarah Tingey, and were super excited to meet everybody in person and see where Alpacka packrafts are hand made!
We knew that Seon was due to renew his NOLS Wilderness First Responder First Aid Certificate for our Packrafting Rescue Courses. So when we saw a course near Mancos at end of October, the decision to fly to Colorado was made in a heartbeat!
Flights were booked, bags were packed and the kids were told that another exciting adventure trip was awaiting us.
After surviving a long trip and 9 hours of time difference, we stood in front of the Alpacka workshop and were greeted by Sarah, Thor, Sheri and a bunch of dogs that are a part of the family.
First thing on the agenda was of course a tour through the factory.
We saw every step of the production process of an Alpacka packraft. Cutting, sewing, gluing, welding, all the local employees were focused on doing a great job and their commitment to quality is clearly evident. Another thing that surprised us is that nearly all of the staff at Alpacka paddle themselves. Think about that for a moment, the people that are hand crafting your packraft for you actually packraft, and share your love for the sport.
We also spent some time with the repair and retrofit department.
Starting in January 2019 we will begin offering a limited selection of repair and retrofit services for Alpacka packrafts in Europe. Seon spent most of his days training in the repair and retrofit centre to learn how to do repairs and retrofits to the high quality that Alpacka stands for and we are excited to begin testing his skills!
Last but not least there are two more sheds that are specifically dedicated to R&D!
To improve existing designs, find and test better ones, work on the material, the components, the production techniques etc. It blew our mind how every little detail was so well thought of and how Alpacka puts a focus on doing the right thing rather than going for the cheapest option, even with decisions that most customers will never be aware of.
Alpackas bottom line is driven by passion, dedication to design, innovation, and creating the best packrafts available. Period.
All Alpacka packrafts are crafted by hand in the USA, and every step in production is a testament to the values that guides Alpacka and their family of skilled craft men and woman.
It starts with their boat fabric (which is unique to Alpacka and made in the USA to their exacting specifications) and continues through every step of production and beyond. This dedication continues on for the lifetime of their Packrafts and is also evident in the repair and retro fit center where it is not uncommon to have rafts come in for upgrades that are over 10 or 15 years old and still going strong.
Another example is the glue that is used.
We could actually walk into the gluing room with our little kids and could hardly smell anything. When we asked Thor about it, he explained that Alpacka is using a glue that is free from VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) and is much less toxic and harmful than most glues. This is something we had already noticed at packrafting meet-ups. Other brands of rafts can be identified by their smell even after weeks and months of use.
This is just one example of many that shows the dedication Alpacka has not only to design and innovation but also the health of the environment, their employees and their loyal customers.
Of course we also met Sheri, who started it all and still has a sparkle in her eyes when we talk packrafting with her.
Although most of the day to day business is led by Thor and Sarah, Sheri is still very much involved in innovation, new designs and patterns and we saw her more than once on the sewing machine herself. Now in her 70s it is clear she is as passionate as ever about packrafts.
The days flew by and we got to know the people behind Alpacka a bit better and learned more about their ideas, passions and values – so much in line with ours!
When Seon was working in the repair center, I grabbed the kids and explored the surroundings of Mancos! Between snow capped mountains and desert canyons, it is an area of contrasts. It is a small town where Cowboys are still part of the normal scenery, one day even a full herd of cattle was herded straight through town.
On the weekend we drove to Utah to paddle Colorado river.
First a gentle stretch with the kids and to try out the new 2019 models (more about that soon :-)))
On the next day, Molly (Alpacka customer service) had organized permits to paddle the Westwater Canyon and Seon went paddling with the Alpacka crew.
It was a full day on the river with deep blue skies, stunning scenery, good whitewater, laughter and great packrafting. I think Seon has a new favorite whitewater packraft…
After a few more days in the factory, our visit came to an end – such a great trip!
Michaela & Seon
Some more pics from the trip: