As adventure trips explode, guides say goodbye to Dirtbag life

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Mike Kimmitt hasn’t always set his sights on becoming a full-time outside mentor. A recent graduate of business school in 2017, he has had two part-time jobs as a camp night trainer at the Phoenix Zoo and as a shoe specialist at the REI Store in Tempe, Arizona

“I had a coworker at REI who worked as a mentor and always had interesting tidbits about the party,” Kimmitt said. Intrigued, he signed up for a first responder wildlife class with NOLS and soon landed a job leading hiking, biking, and rafting trips outside of Scottsdale for the Arizona Outback Adventure (AOA).

“I was set, in large part, to smile and point at the falls while the senior guides dealt with most of the real guides,” he said. “I didn’t know it at the time, but my training would be short and it went like this: come as a guest on two training flights, learn all you can, and fly, little bird!”

Five years later, mentorship has become a dumb day. He is now leading backpacking and camping adventures as a full-time, multi-teaching guide with REI . Experiences.

In 2020, 160.7 million Americans aged six and over participated in at least one outdoor activity — a total of 7.1 million more participants than in 2019, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. As more and more beginners are venturing abroad, mentoring has become big business. REI in particular has seen a more than 60 percent increase over the past 12 months in offering REI Experiences, a growing list of 124 multi-day adventure travel trips led by professional local guides across the U.S.

As the business grows, you also have opportunities for mentors. after, after REI acquired AOA in 2019 To grow her guide and her ability to journey, Kemet says his life as a guide has completely changed. Up until that point, he’d been scrambling for consistent hours, taking away his rookie pay, and playing it safe on country adventures due to his limited health insurance coverage.

After the acquisition, REI changed its pay format from a daily rate to an hourly rate to gain a competitive advantage in a tight job market. Kmit’s upgraded gig guarantees 16-hour workdays and overtime, increasing rapidly. To boot, mentors received health insurance with an HSA option and became eligible for paid time off and sick times, a 401k plan, annual bonuses, and even vacation leave — all the benefits of a good, balanced job. He no longer lives a dirty lifestyle.

Mike Kmet
Mike dun in the Utah Thin Arch

“[Before guiding with REI]”I remember feeling it was such an honor to do the work that I do,” said Kemet. “But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make a decent living – especially when you’re responsible for keeping people safe in remote areas and in potentially life-threatening situations.”

Kmit’s story mirrors many US guides’ paths in the industry – a journey that requires grueling hours, technical know-how, and life-saving onshore skills (built over many tireless years in the field). Colby Prowqvist, Expedition Leader, Mentor, Trainer, and Author Career Counselor’s GuideRising to full-time employment, or even leading global expeditions, he says, requires an additional level of experience, leadership, and professionalism in the mentoring world.

“It’s easy to get out there and lead a river rafting trip or a top rope climb for a day – but it won’t even happen [the guides] They have longstanding wildlife experience that gets to the heart of mentoring: pragmatic leadership, team, risk management, operations execution and logistics,” said Prowqvist. “These kinds of things require working at a higher level and come with more experience, training, and a larger knowledge base.”

Kmit and Brokvist also attest to the fact that mentoring is a business of many jobs.

Not only does it provide an entertaining and amazing experience in the wilderness; They also take upon themselves the job of leader, role model, coach, environmental educator, and lifeguard in the literal sense of the word.

“Each guide has different skills, stories, and passions that they bring with them to work every day,” Kemet said. “if [travelers] They want to hone their backpacking or camping skills, or learn more about plants, animals, geology, indigenous cultures, and other elements of the natural world – guides will be able to talk about these things. You walk away from a trip to not only love a place, but feel a depth of connection that you wouldn’t get just by showing up and reading some signs.”

Brokvist describes in his book one of the many roles that mentors should play as an “interpreter.” This role requires guides to cultivate travelers’ curiosity by helping people think more deeply about the places they are.

“Being an interpreter means that guides can provide insight and feedback along trips that focus on things like responsible visitation and conservation, social empowerment, and amplifying local voices. Guides can help connect guests with local stories—whether environmental, cultural, social or Economic – to build deeper connections with the people, places and wildlife they visit.”

The market for mentors may also grow. In addition to multi-day adventure trips, REI also continues to host day trips and educational programs in 14 cities to educate and help people hone their outdoor skills for activities such as camping, biking, kayaking, and climbing.

Mark Seidel, Vice President of REI Experiences, says the company has big goals to meet the demand for multi-day adventure travel tours, tours, and rentals; The goal, he says, is to get 3 million people outside each year. The company also recognizes that the quality and production of its team of thousands of mentors remains a major reason for their success.

“We believe that the guide is the product and they are the most important part of the customer experience. REI is committed to ensuring that we attract and retain the best mentors in the industry – whether seasoned or just starting their career – and our merits and drive reflect this intent.”

As interest in guided outdoor adventures continues to grow, outfitters like REI are cutting edge so they can continue to attract and hire high-quality guides suitable for leading groups in the wild.

“What was once a dirty summer hustle has evolved into a respectable year-round party with a long-term desire for wages, benefits, and a quality of life,” Kimmitt said. “There is now an opportunity to view the evidence from a professional perspective.”

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