What does a career in Outdoor Recreation Management look like?

Lees-McRae alumni talk building their careers in the outdoor recreation field following graduation from Lees-McRae

The field of outdoor recreation is extremely varied, and for many professionals, building their career in the great outdoors means changing with the seasons. Weather and climate determine how everyone interacts with the world around them, including the professionals, and seasonal work is often the name of the game when it comes to getting a foot in the door. Outdoor Recreation Management (ORM) alumni Chrissy Turk ’20 and Bryce James ’22 both know what it takes to begin establishing this career path, and the wide range of skills needed to maintain year-round work.

Throughout her undergraduate career, Turk spent each summer interning as a canoe guide at Northern Tier High Adventure along the Minnesota and Ontario, Canada border. After graduating with a degree in ORM and three minors in Business and Administration, Wilderness Medicine and Rescue, and Ski Industry Business and Management, Northern Tier High Adventure was her first professional stop as a post-graduate.

Once the sun begins to set earlier in the evening and the water turns to slush, however, canoe trips in the northern-most part of the country become much less pleasant. Come winter, it was time for Turk to move on to her next adventure. That first winter she was able to stay on with Northern Tier High Adventure, transitioning from guiding canoes to guiding dog sleds. Turk worked as a musher for two winters, but ultimately the cycle began again, and she found herself seeking different outdoor work elsewhere.

This cyclical work schedule has been the same for James, who is currently splitting his time between leading zipline tours at Telluride Ski Resort in Colorado and working at a local gear shop there called Jagged Edge Mountain Gear. Over the winter he worked as a snowboard instructor at the resort thanks to the snowboard instructor certification he earned while at Lees-McRae. He said seasonal work is very common in the professional field of outdoor recreation, a structure that is great for people who like to try new experiences and meet new people like he does.

“At this point in my career I’m not necessarily looking for anything that’s year-round. For a year-round position I would need to find the exact right organization that I want to stick with long term,” James said. “That would be more of a planning, logistics, organizational role rather than being out in the field. There are some jobs where you can be out in the field year-round, but they usually require a bit more experience and expertise in certain areas.”

Turk carries a canoe in preparation to guide a canoeing excursion.
James geared up in preparation to lead a zip-lining excursion at Telluride Ski Resort in Colorado.

For James, whose primary passion and ultimate goal is to build a career in snowboard education and instruction, there is an inherent seasonality to the work. He said that some of the more experienced snowboard instructors he works with at Telluride do work as instructors year-round by maintaining a job in the United States during winter and chasing the cold weather to Australia or New Zealand in the Southern Hemisphere during the spring and summer months.

Although this work keeps many professionals constantly on the move, James and Turk both said they are enjoying using this time to discover their true passions, experience the world around them, and learn more about the ins and outs of the outdoor adventure industry. Eventually, Turk and James see themselves settling into more traditional year-round positions. Turk said this could be achieved by finding a company who offers different outdoor recreation opportunities throughout the year, or by splitting seasons across two nearby companies. Until then, however, she said she wants to take advantage of the flexibility she currently has to discover more avenues through which she can focus her love of the great outdoors.

“In the outdoor industry a lot of the jobs don’t necessarily require a lot of previous experience, but rather the ability to be responsible and committed to your work, have a good attitude, and try something new. I had never been on the back of a dog sled and was hired to lead multi-day dog sledding trips. I am from South Florida and had never skied or snowboarded growing up, but at Beech Mountain they were willing to train me to be a ski and snowboard instructor even though I was just learning myself,” Turk said. “Having the right attitude to learn on the job and to work hard is most important. Communication skills and people skills can really go a long way even if you don’t have the technical skills yet.”

By Maya JarrellJune 26, 2023