Getting paid to play
Do something fun where you want to be in the outdoors
Steamboat Springs — Everyone deals with the alarm going off in the morning, hitting the snooze button a few times, and then up and out to the place that pays the bills. That’s work.
Meanwhile, the great outdoors, the reason many people live here, is put on hold until the evening or a day off.
But as a few locals in the valley have figured out, the solution behind the “Don’t want to go to work” blues is to have a job doing something fun in the place most people want to be outside. This is a list of the top four outdoor jobs in the Yampa Valley.
1. Wilderness Ranger for the U.S. Forest Service
Starting pay: $10.25 an hour.
Experience: Preferably a college degree in a related field.
The upside: Wilderness rangers spend an ample amount of their time hiking and camping around wilderness areas.
“It’s not bad at all,” Mount Zirkel Wilderness ranger Mike Castellini said.
The Forest Service provides rangers with the good gear, which they use through the duration of the job. The rangers set out alone, looking for hikers to teach them about wilderness ethics, such as leaving no trace. Castellini said he spends a lot of time in Buffalo Pass area and in the Gilpin/Gold Creek loop hiking and camping.
“Usually you spend all day talking with people,” Mount Zirkel Wilderness ranger Rich Levy said. “So it’s nice in the evening.”
The rangers also have responsibilities of picking up trash and working on campsites in and around the wilderness.
The drawbacks: Both Castellini and Levy agreed the worst part of the job is playing the heavy when people violate forest rules. Carving in trees, littering and camping too close to water are the most common violations.
Starting pay: $0 to $20,000 (estimate).
Experience: Time in the woods, first-aid education and a certain level of expertise at a particular outdoor skill.
The upside: Guides in the Yampa Valley are paid to do what they love. Whether it’s for rafting, snowmobiling, hunting, hiking, fishing, backcountry skiing, snowshoeing or rock climbing, the people who guide get paid to do what they would do in their spare time.
“The best part is getting to work outside and doing something that I love to do,” said Ken Schomaker, part-owner of Rocky Mountain Ventures.
Schomaker’s company guides for hiking, rock climbing, ice climbing, snowshoeing and this year will start doing backcountry tours.
He said for the most part, every person he takes out has a good time, which makes the job enjoyable.
“You get paid to play,” Steamboat Lake Outfitters’ snowmobile guide Raye Arnold said.
He averages 120 miles a day on the sled, usually incorporated into two half-day tours.
Arnold used to race snowmobiles, so the job fits right into what he loves to do.
The drawbacks: Seasonal pay is an occupational hazard. There is always a slow time where an alternative source of income could be needed. Also, continued contact with tourists can cause some unwanted frustration.
3. Ski Patrol
Starting pay: $8.25 an hour.
Experience: An expert level of skiing, advanced first aid and eventually an EMT certification.
The upside: It’s the most obvious, but being on ski patrol for Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. is still a great gig.
“I truly believe there is no job better,” Steamboat ski patrol veteran John (Pink) Floyd said. “I’ve been doing it for 15 years and I can’t imagine life without it.”
Members of the ski patrol are on the mountain clearing runs before anyone else is there and stay after everyone has gone home, which Floyd said is the biggest perk. Ski patrol also spends the day making sure everyone is skiing safely and responding to accident calls.
“You truly never know what the day is going to bring,” Floyd said.
The drawbacks: Floyd said the hardest part of the job is dealing with serious injuries to skiers and then informing the family about what had happened. “That’s the most challenging thing,” he said.
Enforcing the mountain’s rules on locals isn’t a walk in the park either, Floyd said.
4. Community Service Officer.
Starting pay: $12.90 an hour.
Experience: High school education and experience with dealing with the public.
The upside: The community service officers are the people in yellow coats riding their bikes around town.
“Our basic job is for safety and for animal control,” said Tom Whiddon, community service officer supervisor.
For someone who likes to ride bikes, this is the job. Whiddon said a normal day is about 20 miles of riding on the core trail, up Spring Creek and around other parts of town.
On top of that, the officers are used for crowd patrol, finger printing, securing crime scenes and enforcing the municipal code.
The drawbacks: Whiddon said the hardest part of the job is the code enforcement, especially for dog violations.
“People are real defensive about their pets,” he said.
Other great outdoor jobs worth mentioning include ranch wrangler, race team crew, Forest Service firefighter and ski coach for the Winter Sports Club.
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