Guide Real Talk: Transitioning from Guiding

Banner Photo: Skip Volpert

When the Redside Foundation received the following email to our inbox, we had a feeling that this Idaho guide wasn’t the only one with this question. With permission, the guide’s question, and our answer, is below. We also want to hear from you - what did you transition out of guiding into? How do you deal with the June blues? Or, if you’re a career guide, what has made the off season work for you? Let us know below in the comments.

Dear Redside,

I have been a guide on the Salmon River the last 4 years. I am at a total lost as to what to do with my life. Guiding is the best thing that’s happened to me and the off season has been an absolute struggle. I now have a full time and year round job, but I’m not happy and I need ideas (besides ski patrol) as to what other guides to in the winter to stay financially stable and sane.

I really appreciate the time! Thanks so much.

Dear Idaho Guide,

It's good to hear from you, and thank you for reaching out! I hope you know that while each experience of the guiding career is different, you certainly aren't alone in struggling with the offseason. I know both personally from my work as a guide and professionally in my work for guides how tough it can be to go from a job you love, in a place you love, with people you love, to being cast back into the "normal world" in the fall! And it can be even tougher to transition into a full-time job working 40 + hours a week and watching your crew start up their season without you.

I would definitely recommend giving the Redside Idaho Guide Helpline a call or text (208-740-1192). Working with a counselor or career coach can be invaluable in helping you better define your values, what matters to you in work, and how to structure your time. Whether you go back to working seasonally or find a way to better balance a full-time job with time out on the river, it can be really helpful to have someone impartial in your court. Redside will pay for up to eight sessions or $720 worth of care annually, so it's also no-cost (and confidential)!

From my personal experiences (I'm not a professional counselor to be clear) I will say this - the first June I didn't go back to full time guiding and instead was working for Redside was tough. I am lucky - because of the nature of this work I still get out on a few trips, and obviously still get to take part in the guiding community in a way. But the first season when I didn't get to move out and into my car, I didn't get to spend all spring on outside... I felt awful. It's gotten easier, and a lot of that for me has been around reflecting on what I have now that I couldn't have while guiding. My relationship is stable, I have a dog, I get to serve on a nonprofit board of directors in town, and I have friends I get to spend time with year round. I go on mountain bike rides and eat salad at lunch! That sort of thing. I still get nostalgic this time of year, but I can remind myself of what I get to say YES to when I say NO to a full-time season.

I also always suggest that you shouldn't move on from guiding until you're ready to or you need to (financially/physically/mentally) and there are certainly examples of people making it a life-long career. I see a lot of guides going on the path of teaching or doing an academically-adjacent career. These jobs are often a good fit because they also generally provide health insurance and of course, summers are often yours to guide.

You could also think about ski-industry positions. There are generally jobs beyond ski patrol in accounting, kids programs, rental shops, etc that may be winter seasonal.

I also see guides combining small business with their guiding careers. An example of this is Kelli O'Keefe, who does "FunLuvin FleeceWear" or Kate Stoddard who does "Orchestra Provisions". You can see a whole list of guide-owned businesses here to get a feel for the creativity and passion guides bring to their offseason work!

If you want to be a career guide, it is sometimes important to focus on maximizing your guiding season. Are you working on multiday trips or daily trips? Is the river you're on or the company you're with paying as much as others? What skills can you develop to make you marketable to those "career guide" companies? I also see a lot of career guides working hard to establish themselves in desert rivers such as the Grand Canyon to extend their seasons into Fall/Spring, or working in hunting camps in the fall. There are also international options for guiding, although you want to be mindful of burnout and giving yourself enough time to rest.

If you do commit to being a career guide, I'd recommend setting up an appointment with the Redside Financial Advisor. It's good to get a start toward creating a savings plan or starting to think about retirement plans like ROTH IRAs. In a classic 9-5 your employer will often walk you through this, in guiding usually you have to set yourself up for success.

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, but know your guiding community is here for you - whether you continue to guide in Idaho or not.

Best wishes and will be thinking of you this summer,

Emerald LaFortune

Redside Foundation Executive Director