Emancipation Occupations

Ten ascendant careers to free you from the cubicle


WHAT YOU DO: Work with ambitious athletes looking to get in peak form. This requires being tech-savvy enough to, say, analyze 3-D images of muscle movement, but most coaches insist on working with their clients in the real world. “I can be manic-depressive guy if I don’t get my sun dose,” says six-time Ironman champ–turned–triathlon coach Dave Scott, who spends mornings leading group runs or swim sessions.

WHY NOW: Membership at USA Triathlon has increased 531 percent in 15 years, adding nearly 80,000 multisport athletes, and there are now more than 300 domestic adventure races every year, up from two in 1995. The newbies can afford trainers, too: 35 percent of new cyclists own bikes worth $4,000.

THE NUMBERS: Hourly rates range from $70 to $300; a certified trainer charging $100 per hour can easily bring in $200,000 a year.

BREAKING IN: Develop a background in exercise physiology, kinesiology, or nutrition, and get schooled at any level via the national governing body of your sport, like USA Triathlon ( The two-year program at the National Coaching Institute Calgary ( is the only college of its kind in North America.

Landscape Architect 2.0

WHAT YOU DO: Create natural settings—parks, waterfronts, campuses, parking lots—that are pretty and functional. Increasingly, this means reinventing contaminated sites like old factories and decommissioned mines, often using vegetation and other forms of bioremediation so that sites, in effect, clean themselves. “It requires a new way of envisioning what’s possible,” says Alan Berger, a professor of landscape architecture at MIT.

WHY NOW: Thanks in part to the boom in restoration ecology and landscape reclamation, the field is expected to add 4,000 new jobs by 2016. “We all got snatched up right out of school,” reports one recent grad.

THE NUMBERS: Average compensation in 2006 was $90,000. Hours: 45 to 55 in typical weeks, but for some this can jump to 90-plus close to deadlines.

BREAKING IN: You need a degree in landscape architecture; Harvard, LSU, and the University of Georgia are considered the top grad programs. Most graduates go through a one-to-four-year apprenticeship, then take a registration examination. See the American Society of Landscape Architects ( and

Resort Host

WHAT YOU DO: Make sure the guests have fun. “It could be a fly-fishing trip in the morning or a hike or getting someone on a bird-watching trip,” says Jacob Ott, director of outdoor pursuits for West Virginia’s private Greenbrier Sporting Club. Depending on the resort and your precise title—adventure concierge or director of outdoor pursuits, for example—responsibilities can include arranging trips through local guides, testing said trips, leading activities, and maintaining equipment.

WHY NOW: This job was virtually unheard of before 2000; now major resort chains like Four Seasons and Fairmont are adding positions in dreamy spots around the globe.

THE NUMBERS: Figures vary wildly, but our survey suggests a range from $20,000 to $70,000, with a select few making more. Six-day workweeks and extended hours are likely during busy seasons.

BREAKING IN: The formal route is to get an undergraduate degree or master’s in hospitality from top schools like Cornell or Rhode Island’s Johnson & Wales. Some people start as independent guides. Simply working at a resort in customer service is a good way to get a foot in the door. Scout positions at

Itinerant Blogger

WHAT YOU DO: Think Woodward and Bernstein meet Joan Rivers. But blogging isn’t just dropping snark bombs and dishing on celebs. Successful bloggers comb Web sites, monitor news feeds, and cultivate sources to maintain a fresh supply of information—just like their creaky print counterparts. It can be an intense workload, but being your own master? Priceless. “I sleep pretty late, write a few posts, and go out for a run,” says Rocky Thompson, gear blogger at online retailer

WHY NOW: Bloggers get coveted media seats from Davos to Bonnaroo, and even The New York Times has skinny-jeaned keyboard punchers on staff. Play it right and you can cash out: All-things-green was snapped up by the Discovery Channel for a reported $10 million last summer.

THE NUMBERS: Pros caution that only the most successful bloggers can score full-time jobs, but salaries at established empires like Gawker can push into the high five figures. Running your own site? Ad revenue at top-tier blogs can exceed $15,000 a month.

BREAKING IN: Find a niche that you love and cover it relentlessly. Asking other bloggers to add you to their blogrolls and link to your site is a great way to build readership. “You need to produce an avalanche of original material, throwing out as many links as you can without whoring, or at least whore skillfully,” says Chris Mohney, former editor of the urban-travel blog Gridskipper.

Race Director

WHAT YOU DO: Think executive with pom-poms and a dustpan. Joel Heath, president of Untraditional Marketing and producer of the Teva Mountain Games, says he’s everything from CEO to janitor. Boston Athletic Association’s executive director, Guy Morse, splits his time between rallying staff and sweet-talking sponsors. “We’re asking 7,000 people to volunteer, and you have to keep them coming back.” Why is that awesome? The thrill of being completely in charge on race day. Jim Birrell, whose Medalist Sports runs the Tour de Georgia and the Tour of California, says, “It’s an unbelievable rush when you see it all come to fruition.”

WHY NOW: More and more communities are trying to cash in on the racing craze. Running USA says finishers in U.S. road races have more than doubled in two decades, up to 8.5 million, and USA Cycling reported a 45 percent membership increase in the past five years.

THE NUMBERS: A third of organizers work for free, but at least a quarter earn more than $50,000. Birrell, who begins his day at 4 a.m. so he can be home in time for dinner, says you can make as much as $150,000 directing major events.

BREAKING IN: Race directors come from all over, but they share a passion for their sport and a no-job-is-too-small attitude. Keep yourself educated on your sport of choice, start volunteering now, and check trade-group sites like Road Race Management ( and Running USA (

Libations Professional

WHAT YOU DO: Wine jobs have been around forever, but growth in the high-end craft-beer and craft-spirits industries has provided new opportunities outside the grape. Last year, Scott Kerkmans, of Four Points by Sheraton, became the world’s first chief beer officer. His enviable responsibilities: travel the world, receive beer at the office, and host prestigious events. “In wine you have the sommelier as independent taste tester, and brewing now has its counterpart, the master cicerone,” says Kerkmans.

WHY NOW: Craft-beer sales grew 12 percent in 2007 alone, with breweries cranking out $5.7 billion worth of product. Meanwhile, the total number of craft distilleries increased 30 percent last year. “It’s where the craft-brewing renaissance was 15 years ago,” says Sam Calagione, owner of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery.

THE NUMBERS: A head craft brewer producing more than 60,000 barrels per year (or 14.9 million pints) earns $92,000 on average. Independent consultants start at roughly $40,000 a year but can make more than $800 per day. Taking home a case or bottle from some labels each month isn’t bad either.

BREAKING IN: Degrees in microbiology or organic chemistry are common for posts with big wine and beer producers, while distilling is still very much a journeyman or apprenticeship industry. Still, many of today’s most innovative entrepreneurs developed their palates by brewing, fermenting, or distilling at home first. The University of California at Davis and the Siebel Institute of Technology, in Chicago, are regarded as the best brewing programs in the country.

Sustainability Director

WHAT YOU DO: Green up your employer by whatever means necessary. “You’re half MacGyver, half Bill Nye the Science Guy,” explains Luke Cartin, environmental manager for Vail Resorts. For Jill Dumain, director of environmental analysis at Patagonia, tasks have included installing solar panels and helping the cafeteria serve more organic foods. The sweetest positions allow for numerous hours outside. “A lot of things I go to check out are on my mountains,” says Cartin. Then there’s your squeaky-clean conscience: Many in the field report that they sleep very, very well.

WHY NOW: More and more Fortune 500 companies are hiring corporate sustainability officers—Mitsubishi and Dow Chemical added positions last year—and at least 35 schools offer M.B.A.s with a focus in sustainability.

THE NUMBERS: Salaries for M.B.A.s start at about $65,000. Directors of departments at large companies earn well over $100,000—but few work less than 50 hours per week.

BREAKING IN: If you don’t have an undergraduate degree in environmental science, consider working or volunteering at a nonprofit for training. An M.B.A. with a focus in corporate sustainability is a surefire résumé builder (best programs at Michigan, Yale, Duke, and Bainbridge Graduate Institute, in Washington State). See the jobs board.

Action-Sports Agent

WHAT YOU DO: Get the best deals for your clients. Which means hardball negotiating with team managers and sponsors and maximizing athletes’ positive images. You’ll also oversee client schedules, sponsor obligations, media interviews, and more. “The work never stops, especially when the guys are on the road,” says Blair Marlin of Wasserman Media Group, agent for surfers Andy and Bruce Irons. Of course, you might be on the road with them—at, say, Oahu’s North Shore for the Triple Crown of Surfing, or on a heli-skiing trip in the Canadian backcountry for a video shoot.

WHY NOW: After a long wait, mainstream mega-brands like American Express and Target have embraced action-sports stars as pitchmen, which in turn means more openings for agents at top sport-rep firms. Meanwhile, the consumer market for snowboard, skate, and surf labels has ballooned to $11 billion annually. “There are so many more opportunities than there were ten years ago,” says Susan Izzo, CEO of Encinitas, California–based Mosaic Sports Management.

THE NUMBERS: 10 to 20 percent of every deal you ink. Or, at a bigger agency, a flat salary—$40,000 to start, then up to $200,000 and more. Your hours: 24/7.

BREAKING IN: There are sports-agent programs at USC, Indiana University, and UMass-Amherst, but insiders say a keen understanding of action sports is more important. Go to competitions and make connections with players in the industry. Wasserman (, IMG (, and Octagon ( offer internships.

Gear Designer

WHAT YOU DO: 1. Find faults in products. 2. Sketch ideas. 3. Devise new construction methods. 4. Test prototypes. 5. Start over. “I pretty much spend every day burning stoves or testing solar panels or modifying binoculars,” says Mike Lilygren, director of new-product development for Brunton. Most designers work for one company. The rare successful freelancers—like Paul Tusting, who manages Salt Lake City–based firm Design Engine and crafts carabiners and cams for Black Diamond and cycling equipment for Chrome Bags—enjoy more flexible schedules but need to diversify to make ends meet. (Tusting also develops consumer electronics.)

WHY NOW: The outdoor-gear industry has matured into a $46 billion juggernaut, with hot sectors—like kayaking and trail running—growing more than 25 percent in the past three years.

THE NUMBERS: New hires start at $40,000, while top designers at big companies make more than $100,000. Expect to log about 40 hours per week, mountainside R&D sessions included.

BREAKING IN: A degree in industrial design or mechanical engineering is ideal. Previous work with any consumer products helps. Many designers start out as testers or consultants—Lilygren was a local Lander, Wyoming, climbing bum before landing a job at Brunton. Follow industry news at and hunt for positions at

Helicopter Pilot

WHAT YOU DO: Depends on the day, but the list includes: Fight fires, hunt fugitives, film movies, cover news for TV and radio, and shuttle skiers, hikers, and anglers in and out of the backcountry. “I’ve followed car chases, dropped skydivers onto a racetrack, and jostled with 20 other helicopters at forest fires,” says Aaron Fitzgerald, who worked as a TV news pilot in Los Angeles before starting aerial-film-production company Airborne Images. But one thing is always the same: the killer view. “I see some beautiful country,” says Chris Templeton, who flies heli-ski groups for Telluride Helitrax and fights fires in summer.

WHY NOW: An industry survey in 2006 reported helicopter executives complaining about pilot shortages. Meanwhile, Vietnam-era pilots are retiring and the number of helicopters in operation is expected to double, to 18,800, by 2030.

THE NUMBERS: Salaries range from $10,000 for beginners to more than $300,000 for pilots performing tricky technical tasks like aerial construction, but midrange is around $70,000. Hours are reasonable, but contract or seasonal work leads to a nomadic lifestyle.

BREAKING IN: Earn a commercial license with 150 hours of training at Bristow Academy (, which offers instruction in Florida, Louisiana, and California, then build toward 1,500 hours of flight time (required by most employers) in a low-wage flight-instructor position. See job listings at and