6 Tips for Working in Outdoor Education

It’s easy to romanticize working outdoors: what isn’t to love about being paid to travel? But it isn’t always that simple. Seasons ends, the work dries up, and then what? If you’re considering a career in outdoor education, or even just giving it a try for a few years, here are some tips to make the transition smoother.

Winter Work
Summer is the easiest season to start your outdoor education career. Whether you’re interested in working at a summer camp, guiding, or leading longer courses, there’s bound to be a position for you. With so many options available, it’s easy to forget that the summer ends quickly and so do the job openings. Make sure you line up winter or shoulder-season work before the summer ends. Ski resorts are a great winter option and many start hiring in October.

Maybe you’ve heard this one: what do you call a [fill in the blank] instructor who’s single? Homeless. It’s no secret that work in outdoor ed doesn’t pay very well. If you’re going to commit to a career, it’s a good idea to save as much as you can during the summer. Jobs that include room and board are a great way to prevent excess spending, although some positions factor this into your wages, which means you won’t walk away with much at the end of the summer.

Diversify (and Improve) Your Skill Set
The more you can do, the more options you’ll have. If you’re exclusively a backpacker, consider picking up another sport, like climbing or cycling. Chances are good that you work with people who are good at these sports and may be psyched to teach you the basics. Getting good at a winter sport, like skiing or snowboarding, is a great way to guarantee winter work. If your technical skills are really dialed, it’ll be easier to get a higher paying position.

It may seem like a big industry, but people who work in the outdoors move around a lot, especially between seasons. Talk to your co-workers and see who they recommend working for; it’s a quick way to get solid beta on companies and how much they pay. Another good way to network is to attend conferences, with are common within the outdoor industry. A popular event in the fall is the Wilderness Risk Management Conference, which will be in Atlanta next year.

Prepare for a Nomadic Existence
Unless you start out with a year-round position, expect to move around between seasons. For some people, this is the best part of working outdoors. Instead of working in the same environment all the time, you get to see new places and meet lots of new people. But it’s not the right lifestyle for everyone.

Apply Now
Winter is the best time to apply for summer positions because a lot of employers start hiring early in the year. If you’re not sure where to start, check out the Outdoor Industry Association job board.