Career change...

11:36 a.m. on November 10, 2009 (EST)
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So lately I have been seriously considering a change in my projected career path. After serving as an Airborne Infantryman in the Army, I started attending Texas State University for a degree in History with a minor in Political Science. My plan was to continue on and eventually work teaching post-secondary or working in a museum but all I have wanted to do for the last several months is move out west and become a guide or work in the outdoor recreation industry. Besides the Army and Boy Scouts, I have no official training, just lots of experience camping in the New Hampshire area (that's where I grew up) and now in Central Texas. I was wondering what credentials I would need to get my foot in the door somewhere. I have seen programs by NOLS and COAGS and they both look very nice. There is a 2 week / 120 hour course offered my COAGS that is in my price range and offers first aid and CPR certification and 30 hours of horsemanship. Any advice would be great, I would like to gain any advantage I can now while I finish up my degree in the next year and a half.

12:37 p.m. on November 10, 2009 (EST)
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Did you know your military service gets you a leg up for jobs with the U.S. government? If you haven't already, check out

The parks service, forest service and department of interior all have jobs that would at minimum give you access to recreation areas. Might not pay much but you'd take your wages in vistas and walks in the woods.

12:53 p.m. on November 10, 2009 (EST)
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A good way to get a leg up with NOLS is to take a series of their courses. If you do well, you are likely to get an invitation to apply, which might lead to an apprenticeship (not the correct title, intentionally, but something to learn as you progress). Look at the NOLS website for course information.

Guide services often get their novice guides in the same way - observing clients in their training courses. Most of the activities offered by guide services have certifications required. Climbing, skiing, and whitewater have professional organizations that do the testing and certification, and are sources of information on training.

There are, of course, college and university programs. A typical title is "Outdoor Education". Some of the programs are very expensive, but other excellent programs are reasonably priced (especially with veteran assistance programs), and various scholarships and grants are available. The greatest variety of these programs are in western states and New England. One of the more interesting programs I have run across when giving talks for my professional society at small colleges was at a college in the middle of the Sierra north of Lake Tahoe. Another one was in the Colorado Rockies, and one in Idaho. The attraction of these is that they are right out there in the hills and close to climbing, skiing, and whitewater, as well as backpacking. The emphasis of these tends to be youth education.

10:44 a.m. on November 12, 2009 (EST)
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If your interested I went to Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, NC about an hour away from The Great Smokey Mountains National Park and studied Outdoor Leadership and Instruction. The professors in that program are top notch with great credentials.

9:29 p.m. on November 12, 2009 (EST)
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If you're serious, I'd consider moving to Wyoming.

That .pdf gives you the G2 on using your GI bill for certain NOLS courses based out of WY and a list of others available if you're enrolled at Central Wyoming College.

10:15 a.m. on November 13, 2009 (EST)
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If you have ever thought of moving to Canada, particularly Western Canada there are a few wonderful organizations. The first is Thompson Rivers University in kamloops B.C. offers 1,2,3,4 year guiding programs. You can take the first year and get an idea of what field you want to work in, work a bit, return and ladder into the second year to specialize further. Than third year will pretty much help you finish off any courses or certificates remaining and forth year will help you understand and set up the business end of it.

There is also Yamnuska out of Canmore and Banff in Western Canada as well. They offer a 3 month course and a 6 month course where half of your schooling is held in the Rockies then the other half in Australia. Yamnuska is mainly a guiding service that takes students.

Just a thought. Canada is a wonderful place....

- Phil

10:51 a.m. on November 13, 2009 (EST)
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Thanks for the info.....I am not really looking into any college programs because I am about to finish my bachelor's in History and I do not want to spend the money or do another 4 years of college. I am more looking into schools that are specifically set up for guiding and what not. Has anyone heard anything about COAGS (Colorardo Outdoor Adventure Guide School) I have seen some information on them but have not heard them be discussed much.

12:11 p.m. on November 13, 2009 (EST)
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Whether you take the training in a university program or a guiding-specific program like NOLS, you will have to spend bucks and time. Count on 3 or 4 years to really break into the field, even if you 5-10 years of climbing/backcountry skiing/whitewater/fishing/hunting/other outdoor experience. Part of this is as a grossly underpaid apprentice, getting all the dog-work.You will also find that your military experience is only slightly relevant to guiding clients.

There is a huge amount to learn about "client relations", and if you go into youth education, an even greater amount to learn about the rules, regulations, and "adolescent psychology" (there is a lot more to "Youth Protection" than the 1-hour on-line briefing than BSA requires if you are going to be a professional). Plus there is a lot to learn about the business end of things, as Phil mentioned above). My personal observation is that a lot of guide services and individual guides know next to nothing about managing the business end of things, especially the financial end of it. Guiding is a lousy way to earn a living, between the undependable, poor pay and dealing with the occasional idiot you get as a client.

There is a set of rules passed among guides:

1. The client is trying to kill himself

2. The client is trying to kill the other clients

3. The client is trying to kill the guide

Are you sure you want to try earning a living from something you enjoy doing? This was some advice from a long-time friend who runs a climbing guide service.

12:49 p.m. on November 13, 2009 (EST)
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I'll add that "work in the outdoor recreation industry" is a wide open area, and guides are a small fraction of the entire industry. You can work in the outdoor industry and be a: writer, salesperson, marketer, CFO, manager, designer, engineer, instructor, maintenance worker, etc... I could go on and on.

So, I'd think both about what you enjoy doing on a daily basis for work, as well as what you like about the outdoors and the consider how/if you want to incorporate those two areas together. Also, not to dissuade you from any industry or specific job, but I've always thought that having a job (any job) with a good work-life balance, can be a huge asset on its own. Having the time to go out and enjoy the outdoors is a huge benefit.

FYI, there is a website for outdoor jobs:

Also, for anyone who's interested, the University of Maine at Farmington just announced a bachelor of arts degree in outdoor recreation.

7:27 p.m. on November 13, 2009 (EST)
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Bill says:

There is a set of rules passed among guides:

1. The client is trying to kill himself

2. The client is trying to kill the other clients

3. The client is trying to kill the guide

Are you sure you want to try earning a living from something you enjoy doing? This was some advice from a long-time friend who runs a climbing guide service.



I worked as a fishing guide for two seasons, I learned a lot about people, and even more about myself. I didn't guide very long, and have no formal outdoor training. I was talked into it by a friend who wanted to expand his service.

Everyone wants to be 'The Guide', it's like the hero position I think, kinda like everyone wants to be the pilot. It can also be a stressful position in my limited experience.

I'll make no bones about it, I love stream fishing in the mountains. So it seemed logical to earn some money doing what I liked. I met some great people who had interesting stories. For the most part I had a good time! In my case the money was up and down a lot, and I had to move on.

Unfortunately I occasionally met the one guy who knew everything. These guys would tell you they only hired you to show them around and needed no help or advise on fishing. A few tried to lecture me on how they did things where they lived, and how we did it wrong. Every mountain stream is unique and each area requires a different set of tactics and patterns, but some people don't get that. So short of letting them get hurt I kept my mouth shut so I didn't jinx the tip. ($$)

That's the only part that got my goat.

It was fun to teach someone who wanted to learn, my favorite trips were with a parent and a child, this was very rewarding, and was actually what I think I was seeking.

I would do it again if the money was consistent, I would also encourage you to follow your heart Stodknocker, not everyone follows their dreams, some are scared of failure, and others will not put forth the effort required.

If you really want it, you can do it.

2:15 p.m. on November 14, 2009 (EST)
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To try and fail is not a failure at all... To not try for fear of failure is failure in itself.

Not many people walk out of college and step into their dream job and many are still searching for it.

Don't expect to start this journey in the place you want to end up. You will probably get knocked around a bit with some bumps and bruises. You intended path may be diverted but end up leading you to the perfect job. Hopefully you will find a fulfilling job that puts food on the table, a roof over your head and surrounds you with people and friends with the same aspirations and interests as yourself.

I just had a "wax on, wax off" moment :)

8:44 p.m. on November 16, 2009 (EST)
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If you served in a conflict overseas, or have a VA disability rating, you can get what is called "10 point preference" when applying to most all government jobs. Think Forest Service, Park Service, BLM, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the like. 10 point preference gets you to the top of the applicant pile in many cases, and especially those where you have some relevant work experience. It's worth a look, I'd say; even more so if you like working with fire.

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