Dream Jobs

A Definitive Directory to the Top Careers in the Outdoors

You could keep wedging climbing trips into long weekends, stealing moments from the work week to plot your next vacation expedition, or daydreaming about that river you've always wanted to run. But maybe what you should really do is start exploring whether it's possible to make a life (and a living) doing what you love outside—full-time.

Good news: It is. To prove it, we've ventured well beyond the classifieds to uncover dozens of the best-kept secrets in outdoor career choices, plus all the tools you'll need to land the gig—whether you're scouting for your first open-air job, mulling a midlife career swap, or just feeling tempted to rethink the overtime grind. And though most of these careers demand hard work and serious tradeoffs, one thing is certain: The perks are fantastic, and you'll be earning a lifetime supply of adventure. Check out the following pages, and let us know if you need a letter of recommendation.

Environmental Lawyer
Green Detective

Environmental Activist

Winter Alpine Ranger

Smokejumper

Forester

Avalanche Forecaster
Race Organizer
Sponsored Athlete
Sailing Instructor
Ski Patroller
Equipment Tech Rep
Tent Designer
Bike Shop Associate
Expedition Doctor
Small-Plane Pilot
Trip Scout
Location Scout
Landscape Architect
Underwater Photographer
Geologist
Marine Biologist
Naturalist
Ethnobotanist
Archaeologist
Odd Jobs: Eight way-out pursuits to satisfy the rebel within

 

Environmental Lawyer

 

The Work: Whether your employer is the Justice Department, a polluter in need of defense, or a nonprofit organization, you'll spend the bulk of your time poring over case documents—investigation reports, Forest Service logging proposals, and scientific materials—doing pretrial administration work, or arguing to a jury that a man accused of smuggling 200 exotic parrots across international borders should go to jail. Or get lucky like Sierra Club attorney Mark Massara, who logs billable hours on the beach building support for coastal preservation. 

Time Outside: 10—20 percent at most. You commune with paper more than with nature, though the occasional investigative foray to inspect a clear-cut or the scene of a grizzly bear kill isn't out of the question. 

Payback: $20,000 in the public sector, up to $250,000 for private attorneys working on high-profile litigation. Of course, there are those who take a virtual vow of poverty for the Earth. "If I earned more, I'd consume more," says Marty Bergoffen, an attorney for the Southern Appalachian Biodiversity Project, who banked a measly $10,000 last year. "And that only leads to more environmental degradation." (We didn't pay him to say that.) 

Prerequisites: Vermont Law School (888-277-5985; www.vermontlaw.edu) and the University of Oregon's School of Law (541-346-3846; http://www.law.uoregon.edu) are choice trolling grounds for talent scouts from private firms and NGOs. Along with your law diploma, you'll need a passing score on your state bar exam and—to land the best jobs—a B.S. in ecology or environmental science. 

Networking: Bring a stack of résumés to the University of Oregon Land-Air-Water Association's annual environmental law conference in Eugene in March. 

Peon to Pro: Seven years from exam-weary law school grad to partner or head counsel. 

Drudge Factor: 80- to 90-hour workweeks during trials. And if you work for a private firm, you don't always represent the good guys.

Outlook: Promising. Tightening environmental regulations mean plenty of opportunity for prosecution and defense. Eighty percent of current openings are in corporate law.

 

Green Detective

The Work: State and federally employed special agents (most punch the clock for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the Environmental Protection Agency) spend their days incognito, tracking and busting violators of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts. Agents do everything from stinging renegade taxidermists to foiling coral smugglers to cruising airports with contraband-sniffing German shepherds.

Time Outside: 25—75 percent, depending on the post. "The criminals don't come to you," says Special Agent Doug Goessman, who tracks grizzly poachers for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Montana. "You've got to take your spotting scope, your video camera, your binoculars, and get out there and beat the bushes."

Payback: $21,000 a year for entry-level agents with previous law-enforcement experience; $60,000 for senior agents.

Prerequisites: Start with a B.S. in criminal justice from a school like Southern Illinois University—Carbondale (618-453-2121; www.siu.edu/~ajsiuc). Once hired, you'll be taught high-speed pursuit driving, interrogation, federal conservation laws, and the limits of your own stamina: Flunk the physical evaluation battery—20 push-ups in two minutes, for starters—and you're out.

Networking: The Federal Wildlife Officers Association (www.fwoa.org) and the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (202-624-7890; www.sso.org/iafwa) are must-surf Web sites for job openings.

Peon to Pro: Expect to spend at least five years in the field before making senior agent, and at least 15 years for top billing: chief of law enforcement. * Drudge Factor: Rummaging through cargo loads of reptile-skin boots, live tropical fish, and caviar at an international customs booth.

Outlook: Dog-eat-dog. With only 230 special-agent positions in the Fish and Wildlife Service, competition is stiff. In 1998, 980 applicants wrangled over 15 openings.

Environmental Activist

The Work: Your mission is clear—to valorously protect the environment!—but your job description isn't, especially if you work for a small, grassroots venture. A typical day could have you rallying local businesses and labor groups against a proposed golf course, penning press releases, lobbying legislators for tighter emissions restrictions, or trekking Alabama forests to inventory the endangered Eastern indigo snake.

Time Outside: For grassroots activists, 25—90 percent. Lobbyists for the citybound national organizations, 40 percent.

Payback: $12,000— $35,000 a year.

Prerequisites: Come one, come all: The job is open to anybody, says Tom Price, communications director at Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, "with an aversion to making money and a healthy dose of moral outrage."

Networking: The Sierra Club posts reams of archival information on hot-topic enviro issues, organizations, and high-profile campaigns around the country (415-977-5500; www.sierraclub.org).

Drudge Factor: With such minuscule budgets, there's never going to be anyone to bring you coffee or take dictation.

Peon to Pro: Four to seven years to make executive director on the local level. Promotions aside, you know you've hit your stride when a pissed-off rancher calls at 2 a.m.

Outlook: Put your save-the-world face on: Rampant burnout results in high turnover, meaning there may a job for you at one of the country's 250-plus organizations.

Backcountry Ranger's Ramble

Profile

This month, as rural Maine braces for its first big snow and winter climbers launch weekend expeditions into the backcountry, Stewart Guay is packing gear for a season in the woods. For five days a week from late December through early March, Baxter State Park's sole winter ranger works, eats, and sleeps in a four-room log cabin at Chimney Pond campground, halfway up the side of 5,271-foot Mount Katahdin (he goes home on weekends to his wife and two kids in nearby Millinocket). "I always have a song in my head!" he enthuses. "Somehow, I've managed to land a dream job."

It's vocational nirvana—that is, for anyone into seclusion, rigorous outdoor labor in frigid weather, and a less-than-luxe lifestyle. After besting five other candidates for the job in 1994, Guay, 27, has spent his winter workweeks hauling firewood, checking avalanche conditions, registering the half-dozen or so hikers who pass through, maintaining the bunkhouse, and ferrying injured climbers down the mountain by sled. And then there's his least-favorite task: clearing deep snow off the three-mile-long, 3,000-vertical-foot trail that links Chimney Pond with the road out of Baxter, a sweaty, two-week ordeal. "There's nothing like the beauty and solitude of this place," says Guay. "But I get really, really, really sick of shoveling snow."

He's not tired, however, of living among the moose and deer in a cabin minimally equipped with emergency cell phone, propane fridge and lanterns, running water sans flush toilet, transistor radio, range, and woodstove. Yet Guay knows that the day will arrive when he may trade the cabin for a year-round ranger job that lets him come home to his family every night. Even so, pondering such an ordinary life makes him wistful. "Sure, it'll be nice to see more of the wife and kids," he allows. "But I won't have the same kind of feeling I have up at Chimney Pond."

Smokejumper

The Work: A little known fact: Smokejumpers with the Bureau of Land Managementand the Forest Service don't just parachute into forests to fight fires, they parachute onto them—intentionally landing on lodgepole pines and lowering themselves down to battle raging blazes with only their Kevlar-reinforced jumpsuits for protection. In their downtime, they frequent the free-weight circuit and the sewing machine (tree branches wreak havoc on gauzy parachute canopies).

Time Outside: 40­-80 percent during the typical June­September fire season, depending on tinder conditions.

Payback: Rookies for the feds pocket a base pay of $10.50 an hour—twice that when actually fighting a fire. Base commanders with 20-plus years of experience earn $60,000 a year.

Prerequisites: The only way in is trial by fire—literally. Most rookies have six years of on-the-ground firefighting experience with hotshot crews. No jumping experience is needed, though; the BLM and Forest Service prefer to train from scratch.

Networking: Check in with the National Smokejumpers Association (406-549-9938; www.smokejumpers.com).

Peon to Pro: Ten years to foreman and a spot on the year-round crew.

Drudge Factor: When it comes to risk, it's all or nothing: Land the wrong way and you could find yourself with a dead branch embedded in your butt—or worse, a broken back. During soggy summers, blaze-battlers build fences. Yawn.

Outlook: Look before you leap. Each year, roughly 800 hopefuls apply for 30 BLM and Forest Service openings.

Forester

The Work: What you do depends on your boss. State and federal foresters monitor trees for disease, analyze soil and water quality, supervise loggers, and draft long-term conservation strategies for stands of giant redwoods. Consulting foresters help private owners of small tracts manage trees and wildlife. Timber company employees oversee harvested land, decide what gets the saw next, and coordinate replantings after clear-cutting.

Time Outside: 50­-75 percent.

Payback: $27,000­-$60,000 for government jobs; up to $80,000 for private sector.

Prerequisites: Get a B.S. in forestry from SUNY in Syracuse (315-470-6600; www.esf.edu), or aim high with an advanced degree from The Yale School of Forestry (203-432-5100; www.yale.edu/forestry). State jobs require that you pass a standardized forestry exam.

Networking: The Society of American Foresters (301-897-8720; www.sfnet.org) provides a database of needy employers for its more than 17,050 members.

Peon to Pro: "With a B.S., you can get a job," says Larry Nance, of the Arkansas Department of Forestry. "But to know your job takes about three to four years." And promotion to district ranger requires ten to 15.

Drudge Factor: Much of your time—more than half for seasoned foresters—can be spent squinting at computerized graphs instead of romping through the woods.

Outlook: Like trees, the profession is slow-growing, but there's an increasing need for foresters within private firms and green groups that manage sustainable tracts.

Avalanche Forecaster

The Work: From early November to late May, these snow lords—80 nationwide, employed by the Forest Service, state highway commissions, and ski resorts—wake before dawn and brave the steeps on snowmobiles, skis, or foot in search of suspect conditions. Back in the office, they analyze reams of fresh data on temperature, wind conditions, and crystal formations and then issue public warnings. 

Time Outside: 50-90 percent. "Predicting avalanches is a real art," says Bruce Tremper, 46, director of the Utah Avalanche Forecasting Center in Salt Lake City. "You have to see the snow, touch it, feel it." And because advisories need to be released by 7 a.m., the workday usually wraps up by midafternoon, leaving ample time to hit the slopes on your own behalf. 

Payback: For most, this is strictly seasonal work with a winter paycheck of $10,000-$20,000. 

Prerequisites: A graduate degree in meteorology and a thesis on snowslide prediction could earn you one of four year-round director positions with the U.S. Forest Service in Ketchum, Seattle, Boulder, and Salt Lake. Montana State University (406-994-0211; www.montana.edu) is a reputable training ground for avalanche buffs. 

Networking: The American Association of Avalanche Professionals (406-587-3830; www.avalanche.org) provides job leads and industry gossip in its monthly newsletter.

Peon to Pro: Ten to 15 years on the winter crew before you'll be considered for U.S. Forest Service avalanche director. "When the snowpack melts in the spring and you grieve as though you've lost a child," says Tremper, "you know you're in past your eyeballs."

Drudge Factor: No kvetching allowed for a job that lets you hike up peaks and ski down! Getting buried in a slide, though, is no joke.

Outlook: Chilly. Competition for the nation's 80 positions is stiff, and though avalanche fatalities continue to rise, funding can be scarce.

Race Organizer

The Work: Drag yourself through an adventure race or mountain-bike relay, and you'll think the race organizers have the easy job: What's there to do other than stock the water stations? Yet for sports marketers who organize and oversee hundreds of contests each year, there's no shortage of work—tallying entry forms, pitching the event to ESPNII, driving front-end loaders through aspen groves to build berms, corralling volunteers, walking the course, even firing the starting gun.

Time Outside: 40 percent. (The balance goes to honing your PR savvy behind a desk.)

Payback: Executive producerscan expect to pocket $55,000-$65,000.

Prerequisites: Unless raking up orange peels is your idea of a career, you'll need to bring computer and marketing skills to the job.

Networking: Start out volunteering at high-profile events such as the High-Tec Adventure Racing Series (818-707-8866; www.mesp.com). And make Detail your middle name: "If you forget the safety pins," says Pat Follet, who organizes mountain-bike races for Team Big Bear in California, "you could screw up the entire race."

Peon to Pro: Aim for making executive producer—supervising a staff of ten—within five years.

Drudge Factor: Pounding slalom flags into mountainsides with a giant hammer.

Outlook: Promising. With participation in the 1999 Hi-Tec series up 40 percent from last year, look for an expanding race calendar.

Sponsored Athlete

The Work: In a word, juggling. At least in the beginning, you'll need to balance a day job to pay the bills, a minimum of 25 hours of training a week, a grueling weekend race schedule, quality face-time with potential sponsors, and sleepless nights agonizing over your decision to abandon a respectable living for this.

Time Outside: 35-60 percent. You've got to play (and practice) to win.

Payback: If you can break even, you're doing pretty damn well; avoiding debt usually requires deep-pocketed sponsors. Expect to bank $20,000-$30,000 in a good year, unless you're wildly successful (surfing great Kelly Slater boasts career contest earnings of more than $700,000).

Prerequisites: Athletic genes and a high tolerance for prerace jitters will take you only so far. Make sure your competitive streak runs strong and deep. "You have to be more than a gifted athlete," says extreme kayaker Tao Berman, whose world-record 98-foot waterfall drop speaks for itself. "You have to be cutthroat ambitious."

Networking: Start trouncing the local competition, and then launch a full-scale sponsorship blitz: mass résumé mailings, cold-calling, and chatting up athlete reps.

Peon to Pro: Master your signature move—like Berman's ten-story plunge—and flaunt it shamelessly.

Drudge Factor: Waking up sore before the 42-mile Rage in the Sage bike race after a night in budget accommodations: your tent.

Outlook: Keep sucking up to your day-job boss and scrambling for sponsorship. Competition is fierce.

Sailor Song

Profile

Here's the life you should have led by now: spent formative years in the yachting community of Annapolis, Maryland; hoisted first mainsail at age six; began summer career as Annapolis Sailing School instructor at age 16; earned U.S. Coast Guard captain's license at 18. Postponed graduate school after college. Traveled to Colorado and, what the heck, took a job as a ski instructor. Began toggling between summers on the Chesapeake and winters in the Rockies. Forgot, utterly and without regret, graduate school.

That, alas, is Susann Steinke's life and not yours. At 30, she's one of the top instructors at the Annapolis Sailing School, teaching students how to read charts, perfect bowlines and reef knots, rig 30-foot sloops, and navigate—by sight and compass—the choppy waters of the Bay. Occasionally Steinke sails offshore for a week at a time, supervising a student-skippered, 30-mile circumnavigation of the Chesapeake's Kent Island. Those days, especially, her life seems nothing short of paradise: screaming downwind on a stiff breeze, dining on steamers and crabs in a sheltered cove, falling asleep to the sound of clanging halyards and nattering gulls.

But that's only half the story. Every October, after six months of saltwater toil, Steinke transports herself and a few suitcases to Copper Mountain Resort, where she takes up residence as supervisor of the children's ski school and spends her workdays wedge-christying through fresh powder with trainees in tow and her off-duty hours in the moguls.

The life of a sports instructor does, however, have its drawbacks. For one thing, it does not usually lead to riches; Steinke earns just enough to pay the mortgage and keep herself in late-model K2s. And sometimes, while shacking up with her parents in her childhood home in Annapolis, she'll pine for a favorite pair of Levi's left behind in her Keystone house. Bummer. Then, of course, there's that wrenching moment every fall when she must break the news to her Chesapeake students: "Sorry, but I can't sail with you in the Caribbean this winter because I have to ski every day." Mercifully, Steinke has learned to endure such affliction with a stiff upper lip. "Most people endure 50 weeks of drudgery to spend two weeks doing what I do all year long," she concedes. "You won't hear me complain."

Ski Patroller

The Work: As king of the hill, you scout for dangerous trail conditions, track and discipline renegade out-of-bounders, haul slope-battered accident victims to safety, throw avalanche bombs, evacuate faulty lifts, bond with rescue dogs, splint broken fingers, calm panicky skiers, haul unwieldy toboggans, and serve as a paragon of sanity among hordes of reckless downhillers. Off-season, you're a mere mortal, working construction, guiding fishing trips, mixing margaritas.

Time Outside: 99 percent during November-April season, including hot-chocolate breaks.

Payback: Ski resorts pay by the hour: $13 for rookies, $15-$20 for six-year vets, $25-$27 for patrol directors.

Prerequisites: Brilliant in the bumps, fast and unflappable on the steeps—while towing a sled, of course. Plus a certificate from the National Ski Patrol's Outdoor Emergency Care Training Course (303-988-1646; www.nsp.org) and CPR training.

Networking: Make the rounds to ski area job fairs, held annually from mid-October through early November. Call the National Ski Patrol (303-988-1111) for dates and information.

Peon to Pro: A patroller with at least one year under his or her belt must pass expert ski or snowboarding courses, sled-handling clinics, and leadership seminars.

Drudge Factor: Succumbing to big-toe frostbite while standing for hours at dangerous trail junctions, yelling at yahoos to slow down.

Outlook: Ski with caution: Due to resort mergers, the number of salaried positions has remained flat at 8,000 since 1996.

Equipment Tech Rep

The Work: Willy Loman never imagined that a salesman's job could be so cool: Endless hours crisscrossing the country in a van full of newly minted mountain bikes, snowboards, and kayaks, and hosting demo events where consumers and retailers sample—and, hopefully, buy—your company's gear. The operative word is demo. You show how a squirt boat performs, and then let the customers try it themselves.

Time Outside: 20-80 percent, depending on how much office time is required to set up these events.

Payback: As a rookie working part-time and pulling in a scant $12,000 a year, your motto will be "keep it lean"—i.e., sleeping in your truck and staving off starvation. Eventually you'll max out at $45,000, unless you switch to the six-figure management track.

Prerequisites: No suit and tie, no advanced degree.What you really need are polished demo-ready skills and a healthy inner show-off: If you're pushing titanium mountain bikes, you'll need to be able to wow the crowd with flawless log-hurdling.

Networking: Outdoor Retailer magazine (800-255-2824; http://www.outdoorbiz.com) publishes monthly industry news and trends and cohosts the biannual Outdoor Retailer Expo.

Peon to Pro: Five years to full-time, but true success means no longer having to eat mac and cheese three days a week and bologna the other four.

Drudge Factor: "People beat the crap out of your equipment," says Chuck Joy, of kayak manufacturer Prijon, "then leave without saying thanks."

Outlook: Choose your gear wisely: The more radical segments of the industry—rodeo kayaking and sport climbing—are growing in popularity.

Tentmaking It

Profile

What is the mantra of a full-time tent designer and tester? Repeat after us: "Seams leak. Real wind is better than wind tunnels. It's not a vacation, it's a field test."

For the past two decades, Martin Zemitis, master craftsman and engineer of outdoor equipment, has worked hard to rationalize and advance this crucial refrain and—to the great envy of his friends and colleagues—make a living sleeping under the stars. As a designer for The North Face, Sierra Designs, and now Mountain Hardwear, Zemitis, 41, has thought up, drawn, prototyped, and tried to destroy everything from fanny packs to extra bouncy bungee cords to intricately vented backcountry cook tents to massive, 15-person shelters. (Last May, Babu Chiri Sherpa spent 21 hours on the summit of Everest in an expedition tent Zemitis designed for the feat.) Perhaps most impressive, he's never spent more than three weeks at a time in his Berkeley, California, office.

Take last year, for example: To test his tents in every kind of extreme weather and terrain, Zemitis climbed the flanks of Mount Rainier, sea-kayaked the Everglades, and whooped over rapids on the Tuolomne and the Salmon. He filled notebooks with trenchant commentary about setup time, ice-encrusted stakes, and the deleterious effects of UV rays on titanium dioxide tent fabric. In short, he's a truant on a salary. "Being outside is my job," he says. "And, no, you can't have it."

Not that Zemitis's work is an endless backcountry idyll. Once while rafting the Colorado, torrential rain infiltrated a theoretically bombproof prototype tent; and during an ascent of Mount Washington, he was lashed by 115-mph gales. Lesser visionaries might retreat to the safety of a watertight, climate-controlled design studio—but not Zemitis. "This is the only life I can imagine," he says. "I get to think about tents. I get to live in tents. And because I make the tents, I can assume they won't leak. Most of the time."

Bike Shop Associate

The Work: Go the retail route or join the wrench force. Sales associates perfect the three S's: straightening, stocking, and selling. Mechanics get greasy hands. Or be a bigger wheel: Buy your own shop, and do both.

Time Outside: 5 percent. The good news, though, is that you don't risk your job when you go for midday rides (employees of Mountain Bike Specialists in Durango, Colorado, spend their lunch hours pedaling some of the country's finest singletrack).

Payback: $6-$14 an hour. Berkeley's Missing Link, an employee-owned co-op, pays an across-the-board $12 an hour, plus full benefits.

Prerequisites: Retail sales experience is good; mechanical know-how is better. The Barnett Bicycle Institute in Colorado Springs (719-632-5173; http://www.bbinstitute.com) can take you from ignoramus to sage in about 100 hours.

Networking: The National Bicycle Dealers Association (949-722-6909; http://www.nbda.com) conducts an annual conference and tracks sales stats. Keep abreast of trade buzz with Bicycle Retailer and Industry News (505-995-4360; http://www.bicycleretailer.com) and hobnob with the cog-noscenti at Interbike Expo (949-376-6216; http://www.interbike.com), held every September in Las Vegas.

Peon to Pro: Five years to store manager. "When you know how to make good on a warranty claim or custom-build bike parts with a Dremel," says Shane Baird, 24, of Mountain Bike Specialists, "you've got it made."

Drudge Factor: Someone has to wash the grimy rags. And then there are those 70-degree days when you're stuck inside fixing a bike so someone else can ride it.

Outlook: Fair. Annual bike sales are stagnant at about 11 million, and 70 percent of shops go broke within a few years of opening.

Expedition Doctor

The Work: Why stick to the hypochondriac-filled life of a clinic-bound medic when you can be Dr. Adventure? Hired on by outfitters to oversee the well-being and health of team members, expedition physicians organize the acquisition and transport of all medical supplies, treat every kind of emergency, and decide when to call for a helicopter evacuation.

Payback: Unsalaried but—usually—all expenses paid.You supply the medical expertise, and the outfitter foots the bill for your equipment, permits, airfare, and food (about $15,000 for a six-week ascent of Cho Oyu, for example).

Time Outside: 100 percent while on expeditions, which can last three weeks to a year.

Prerequisites: An M.D. is preferable, but wilderness first responders and EMTs are also eligible (earn your certification for both from Wilderness Medical Associates; 207-665-2707; www.wildmed.com). A well-rounded résumé of sports experience can make the difference between a month in Tibet and predawn shifts at your local ER.

Networking: The Wilderness Medical Society (719-572-9255; www.wms.org) plans to start posting expedition want-ads by summer 2000.

Peon to Pro: Five years of steady backcountry work before you make the A-list. To stay in the business, you'll need a full-time job at home and a boss who'll tolerate long—and frequent—absences.

Drudge Factor: When local villagers learn there's a Western doctor in town, get ready for overtime.

Outlook: Healthy. The current vogue for far-flung expeditions and the growing number of novice clients have put a premium on outdoor physicians. The Wilderness Medical Society reports that requests for doctor referrals have doubled since 1996.

Small-Plane Pilot

The Work: Fly aerial tours over Utah's canyon country, run charter flights to isolated islands in the Florida Keys, or become a bona fide bush pilot, a winged frontiersman charged with getting anglers to the finest streams, hunters to the elk herds, and mountaineers to the peaks—usually in single-prop planes beyond the range of navigation systems.

Payback: About $50 per hour of flight, at an average of 500-750 hours a year.

Time Outside: 25-90 percent in the cockpit, with ample exposure to deserted beaches, glaciers, and alpine lakes between takeoffs.

Prerequisites: An FAA-sanctioned pilot's license (some 500 hours of in-flight training, written and oral exams, and a solo flight test)—and a mentor. "You have to know how to get your butt out of trouble without whacking something," says veteran airman Rob Grant, 50, who suggests working for an experienced outfit before striking out on your own.

Networking: The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association Web site offers a state-by-state database of flight schools (800-872-2672; www.aopa.org).

Peon to Pro: "The minute you think you're a pro," warns Grant, "you're gonna have trouble."

Drudge Factor: Getting grounded by stormy weather in remote Arctic villages. And stats show that every bush pilot has at least one accident in his career. Not good odds.

Outlook: In Alaska, where a third of the population has no access to roads, business is booming. Not so in the Lower 48.

The Trip Scout's Royal Road

Profile

Three years ago, when one of the world's fanciest tour operators hired David Farnell to guide bicycling, walking, and wine-tasting trips through the French countryside, the recent college graduate knew he had stumbled onto something good. But it wasn't until last summer, as he was watching the sun set over Nantucket from the deck of the America's Cup-winning yacht Intrepid, that he realized just how sweet his paying job could get. "It was incredible," gushes the 27-year-old Massachusetts native, whose five-day trip included a chance to out-tack Ted Turner's rival craft American Eagle from Martha's Vineyard to Newport.

Despite his sunburn, Farnell was hard at work, studiously researching the Intrepid's plush amenities for his job as trip scout at Toronto-based Butterfield & Robinson. Ever since being promoted from trip leader in 1997, Farnell has spent three months a year concocting deluxe vacations for B&R's well-heeled clientele, a task that entails pedaling back roads of Burgundy in search of the most scenic cycling routes, taste-testing seared scallops at Michelin three-star restaurants, and taking careful notes on claw-foot bathtubs at seventeenth-century chateaux. When the experience meets his rigorous standards, he adds it to B&R's roster. When it doesn't, he shrugs it off as another almost—but not quite—perfect day at the office.

As if his job weren't enviable enough, Farnell recently headed into the backcountry of North America to begin scouting locations for B&R's newest endeavor, multisport expeditions for adventurous clients in their twenties and thirties. With the new territory came a promotion to one of five B&R program directors—and an extra helping of adrenaline: In September, Farnell embarked on a two-week research assignment to hike in the glacier-capped Canadian Rockies, mountain-bike epic singletrack near Whistler, and sea-kayak the remote Gulf Islands—all on founder George Butterfield's tab, of course. "George just puts advances on my credit card and says, ŒGo have fun,'" explains Farnell. So, will one of adventure tourism's most pampered guinea pigs ever feel the need to answer a higher calling? "Not unless I find a job with better perks."

Location Scout

The Work: Hollywood schmoozing meets the great outdoors. As a contractor for film studios or ad firms, you're on the prowl for the right locale. Producers give you scripts, storyboards, or vague verbal cues that send you bushwhacking through New Hampshire forests, canoeing Louisiana swamps, or riding rangeland in Arizona. You'll also oversee contracts between the location's owner and the production company.

Time Outside: 85 percent.

Payback: About $350 a day, plus expenses. At their busiest, scouts work six days a week, nine months of the year.

Prerequisites: No degree, but a knack for documentary-style photography (your images sell the location), a grasp of basic contract law, and enough familiarity with your region to handle requests such as "Find me a place where Cajuns dance."

Networking: With only about 300 people in the biz, referrals will get you as much work as an ad in Variety. Serve as an assistant to an established scout; then let your local film commission know you're available.

Peon to Pro: Five years from apprentice to free agent. Gauge success by the star-quality of your clients: If you're still scouting for Crazy Wally's Used Car Madhouse ads, try harder.

Drudge Factor: Road time. Los Angeles-based scout Jof Hanwright logs 30,000 miles a year behind the wheel.

Outlook: Get tech savvy: More producers are finding locations in online catalogs (just click on "mansion" and go to "creepy"), so the location scout of the near future will be less of a wanderer and more of Web designer.

Landscape Architect

The Work: Draft plans to transform once-polluted mining quarries into amphitheaters, design private marigold gardens and elaborate public hedge mazes, and work to preserve historically significant tracts of land. "It's where biology and aesthetics intersect," notes Jane Amidon, co-owner of the Colorado-based Land Art Studio. "We shape a living medium."

Time Outside: 30-75 percent.

Payback: Though apprentices may start as low as $20,000, the typical midcareer salary hovers around $52,000. A principal in a corporate firm, with 15 to 20 years of experience, can top $100,000.

Prerequisites: Earning your green thumb in a nursery or pruning hedges as part of a landscaping crew will give you a taste for the business, but eventually you'll have to hit the books. Cornell (607-255-5241; www.cornell.edu) offers master's and Ph.D. programs. So does Harvard (617-495-2573; www..gsd.harvard.edu/GSDdep.html), which also runs a six-week Career Discovery seminar in landscape architecture every summer. Then get certified: The Council of Landscape Architects Registration Board (703-818-1300; www.clarb.org) administers three-day standardized tests across the country for advanced-degree holders.

Networking: Check out the nationwide job-link service of the American Society of Landscape Architects (800-787-2752; www.asla.org).

Peon to Pro: Three years from apprentice to licensed architect. Orchestrate a logistically tricky overseas project in Europe or Asia and your stock will skyrocket.

Drudge Factor: Wrangling with the EPA over water zoning, the local design review board over historical authenticity, and your own computer over 3-D modeling.

Outlook: The profession is blossoming: The U.S. Department of Labor forecasts a 21-percent growth rate through 2006.

Have Camera, Must Travel

Profile

If there's one thing a professional photographer hates, it's numskulls who block the light and ruin an otherwise perfect shot. But underwater lenswoman Sara Shoemaker didn't mind when it happened to her last February. She was scuba diving in Papua New Guinea when she spotted a rare pygmy seahorse curled around a knobby pink sea fan. Just as she started shooting, a shadow swept across the scene: three giant charcoal-gray mantas swooping overhead, ruining one great shot while offering another. "I was so overwhelmed," she says, "I didn't know what to shoot first."

Shoemaker, 24, has had more than her share of choices for shots—having logged more than 1,000 dives around the world, from algae-choked lakes in northern California to clear St. Lucia reefs. She started her business 18 months ago—armed with a B.A. in art photography from Stanford—and already grosses $40,000 annually by providing imagery for print ads, articles, and conservation videos for clients such as the World Wildlife Fund, Skin Diver magazine, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium."If people can see the life down there," she says, "they might take responsibility for protecting it."

A noble sentiment, to be sure, but Shoemaker notes that her job has its banal moments. "Getting in and out of my dry suit is like giving birth to my head," she says. And her subjects can be downright uncouth. Last year she was filming sandtiger sharks in a tank at Boston's New England Aquarium when a 600-pound green sea turtle plunked itself down on her head. Then there's her travel schedule—five out of six months. "I buy milk in half-pint containers," admits Shoemaker, "and consider myself lucky if I get the laundry done before my next assignment."

Geologist

The Work: Take your pick among a dozen rock-jock jobs, including seismology (dig trenches across California fault lines to find signs of tectonic shift) and digital mapping with the U.S. Geological Survey. Or work as a petroleum geologist, scouting for oil traces along the continental shelves.

Time Outside: 80 percent for government researchers, 25 percent for academics, 10 percent for consultants and oil seekers.

Payback: $25,000 as a rookie USGS hire; $30,000-$50,000 as a private consultant; $100,000-plus as a full professor or Exxon explorer.

Prerequisites: A B.S. in the geophysical sciences gets you started, but to rise in the ranks you need an advanced degree: Try the University of Chicago (773-702-8101; geosci.uchicago.edu).

Networking: The Geological Society of America (303-447-2020; www.geosociety.org) offers a monthly bulletin of job leads.

Peon to Pro: "At first, all the rocks look gray," says Dartmouth geologist Page Chamberlain, "After 20 years, you see hundreds of shades of gray."

Drudge Factor: Hauling rocks.

Outlook: Academia is tight, but private sector work follows the economy. When the world's reserves go down and the price of oil goes up, so will the demand for geologists.

Marine Biologist

The Work: Scuba diving to check the health of Caribbean reefs; buzzing above Baja Sur to tally migrating gray whales; scraping lobster larvae from the seafloor; negotiating humane fishing practices with Maine lobstermen; tagging Stellar sea lions in Alaska; serving as one of three federally appointed delegates on the Marine Mammal Commission; consulting for eco-tour companies and aquariums.

Time Outside: 30 percent fieldwork, 70 percent hustling grants and teaching.

Payback: $25,000-$33,000 for nonprofit and government work; $40,000-$80,000 for university professors and researchers; $60,000-plus for independent consultants.

Prerequisites: Get your toes wet working for nonprofits, zoos, or aquariums (a B.S. in ecology or biology is your ticket). To secure high-paying research grants and prime teaching positions, you'll need an advanced degree. Check out the University of Alaska-Fairbanks (907-474-7289; www.sfos.uaf.edu:8000) and the University of Mary land (301-405-6938; www.mees.umd.edu).

Networking: The American Society of Limnology and Oceanography hosts annual symposia and publishes a journal eight times a year (800-929-2756; www.aslo.org).

Peon to Pro: Seven years in the trenches from B.S. to grant-winning Ph.D.

Drudge Factor: It's not all bikinis and bare feet; there is sea lion scat to collect and rotting jellyfish to analyze. "I necropsy lots of corpses," says Kate Wynne, a marine mammal specialist at the University of Alaska. "And some of them are the smelliest dead things going."

Outlook: You could sink or swim. Competition for whale and dolphin research dollars is intense, so consider focusing on little-studied algal blooms or invasive organisms like pfiesteria instead.

All Naturalist

Profile

During its larval stage, a ruthless two-inch beetle called the water tiger injects its victims with a venom that dissolves muscle, and then extracts its dinner like a teen sucking chocolate shake through a straw. And it's not afraid to attack creatures much larger than itself. All this would be fine as long as it happened somewhere far away, like New Jersey. But this Coleopteran monster lives in a pond behind my house.

I know this because of Mac Donofrio, 41, a Montana naturalist who recently made a house call to educate me about the wilderness pulsing in my own backyard. Last fall, Donofrio launched Home Ground Inventory Services, a one-man operation that surveys the flora and fauna on private land.

Donofrio's business is the culmination of 20 years in the natural sciences. Ever since moving from Maryland to study geology at the University of Montana in 1978, he has excavated prehistoric sites in the northern Rockies, studied bald eagles in Glacier National Park, and most recently cataloged songbirds in Montana and Idaho. "My goal is to spend every waking minute outdoors," he says. "Except when it's 33 degrees and raining."

On a stroll around my 25-acre place with Donofrio, I learned more in two hours than in the entire ten years I've lived here. "See that?" he said, pointing to what I thought was a fat sparrow, but what is really a northern pygmy owl. Farther on, Donofrio tore a leaf from a two-foot weed. "Hounds-tongue. If your horses eat it, they could get sick."

Donofrio charges $150 for one of these informational nature walks, but for $20 an acre he will conduct an archaeological survey of a piece of land's human history, the best places to site a building, and the probability of a wildfire whisking across your property.He assembles his findings in a scrapbook, complete with a hand-drawn map and pressed plants arranged in plastic sleeves.It's an ambitious undertaking, even for a veteran naturalist like Donofrio, but his backyard start-up has already taught him a valuable lesson: Namely, when it comes to understanding the environment, he shouldn't be afraid to attack things much larger than himself.

Ethnobotanist

The Work: Be like Dennis Alan from The Serpent and the Rainbow and trek to remote jungle outposts on the prowl for medicinal plants, herbal remedies, and other unique characteristics of the local flora. Pick up tips from local shamans; then log research hours in the lab or the herbarium. Or sign on with the USDA, tracing old strains of wheat, corn, and potatoes.

Time Outside: 20-50 percent.

Payback: Academics earn $40,000-$100,000 a year. Sign on with a private company like San Francisco-based ShamanBotanicals.com, which collaborates with native healers in 70 countries to develop dietary supplements, and you could bank more.

Prerequisites: For many nonprofit positions you need only basic botany skills, a valid passport, and a quiver of immunizations. For an advanced degree, check out Tulane University (504-588-5374; www.tulane.edu/~eeob).

Networking: Log on to the Center for International Ethnomedical Education and Research Web site (www.cieer.org) for a list of training programs and conferences.

Peon to Pro: There are plenty of able botanists, but few have mastered the "ethno" angle. Stand out among more than 200 American ethnobotanists by building a rapport with healers.

Drudge Factor: International travel inevitably brings intestinal woes. "Running to the outhouse every ten minutes," says Steve King, vice president of ethnobotany at ShamanBotanicals, "is not a pleasant experience."

Outlook: The field is well watered by pharmaceutical companies, college course offerings are sprouting like, well, weeds, and following the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, foreign nations have begun documenting their flora and fauna—good news for ethnobotanists enlisted to help with the inventories.

Archaeologist

The Work: Tough it out on campus for nine months a year, then morph into Indiana Jones and supervise summertime digs around the world. Or work as a contract archaeologist for a private company or the government, surveying and excavating building sites and federal lands.

Time Outside: 30 percent.

Payback: Academics, $35,000-$100,000; contractors, $60,000.

Prerequisites: A B.A. in archaeology, history, or anthropology for contract work—but you'll need a Ph.D. from a school like the University of Pennsylvania (215-898-7461; www.sas.upenn.edu) for the rest.

Networking: The Society for American Archaeology (202-789-8200; www.saa.org) posts private and academic job openings.

Peon to Pro: 15 years to tenured prof or chief investigator.

Drudge Factor: Think highbrow blue collar: digging with axes.

Outlook: Jobs are scarce in academia, but the National Historic Preservation Act, a law that requires archaeological surveys be conducted on federal lands before ground can be broken for construction, has created a steady market for contract work.

Odd Jobs

Eight way-out gigs to satisfy the rebel within

Cryptozoologist
Mythical-beast sleuth Loren Coleman, 52, has a job worth envying—the hunter of Bigfoot and the Himalayan yeti treks the backcountry and interviews eyewitnesses. "So many flakes used to contact me about strange sightings," he says, "I had to get an unlisted address."

Truffle Hunter
Tramping through French and Italian forests on the prowl for these underground delicacies can be lonely work—just you, your shovel, and your hypersensitive-snouted pig, to sniff out the fragrant fungi. "It's every man for himself," says Rick Benito, an Atlantan who imports white and black truffles for www.freshcaviar.com. "But first you have to train the hog."

Surf Researcher
Be like University of California wave scientist Bill O'Reilly, 39, whose offshore duties include planting undersea sensors along the southern California coast. Back in his lab, he crunches data to create a surfer's road map to the biggest breakers. Next stop: Hawaii.

Venetian Gondolier
Poling through canals is the easy part. It's landing the job that's a grind: "They pass it down from family to family," says Carlo Santoro of the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce. Those determined to buck centuries of Old World tradition should enroll at Venice's famed Academy of Gondoliering (011-39-041-529-871).

Hurricane Chaser
Get paid to ignore evacuation orders! That's what Lt. Karl Newman does when he straps himself into a turboprop research plane and flies straight into the eye of the storm, bringing first-hand wind and weather data back to the University of Miami meteorological center.

Navy SEAL
In this have-a-nice-day world, you've got to love a place where they answer the phone, "Naval Special Warfare Center, this is a nonsecure line!" Consider it a job for hard-core, hard-body adventurers who are partial to mapping coastal shallows, trekking jungles—and blowing up enemy bridges.

Treehouse Architect
Tap into a soaring market for high-end, high-up forts. Take your cue from Pete Nelson, who runs Seattle's Treehouse Workshop (www.treehouseworkshop.com) and nets $2,000-$20,000 for each treehouse he builds.

Butterfly Ambassador
Wildlife conservation meets international diplomacy: Enlist in the Butterfly Sanctuary Foundation, brainchild of University of Minnesota ecologist Karen Oberhauser, and lobby Mexican officials and villagers to preserve the winter turf of 200 million migrating monarchs.

More Culture

Holiday Subscription Sale! Save 79% and Get a Free Gift!

Subscribe
Pinterest Icon