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How to Land an Outdoor Dream Job: One Woman's Story

What's your outdoor dream job?

I discovered a new one recently. In fact, if Kristen Smith wasn’t so nice, I might be tempted to pull a "Tonya Harding" at her local ice skating rink in hopes of stealing her job.

Kristen is the sparky marketing director for the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association, keeper of 120 miles of primo Nordic ski trails in remote north-central Washington state. (How remote? The Methow Valley is the last stop before the snowplows give it up for the winter and let state Highway 20 drift shut.)

Kristen at REIA typical winter workday for Kristen: post to the MVSTA blog, update their Facebook page (from ski races to moose sightings), register skiers for races, shoot photos of the snowy goodness. But what gives her the biggest charge? Discovering new ways to use technology to draw more outdoor fans to the trails. “We totally set the bar for social media [in this industry],” says Kristen, under whose guidance the MVSTA has launched a grooming report app for iPhone and Android.

It’s not all smooth skiing, though. Kristen faces an unusual hurdle for a marketing manager: Worried about their beautiful valley being overrun with tourists, locals discourage her from overachieving on the job. Even Methow Valley business owners, on learning of the grooming app’s debut, pleaded with her, “Don’t tell everyone!” 

Maybe that’s why her job stays at half-time. Which is just fine with Kristen.

Wondering how you might land a gig that pays you to get your outdoor fix?  A few tips for following in Kristen’s footsteps:

• Commit. Grow your skills in the outdoor industry, starting now. For example, Kristen arrived at MVSTA with a strong track record, including a 12-year stint at REI.

• Pull up stakes. You’re more likely to land your outdoor dream job if you’re already in the community where you want to work. It’s tough to network from the city.

• Bide your time. Don’t expect to have it all fall into your lap immediately. Be prepared to take short-term gigs (liquor store clerk, anyone?) while you keep an eye out for the right opening.

• Make connections. In a smaller outdoors community, it’s the connections that count. Volunteer, join the local hiking group, find ways to connect. Kristen got on the path to her ideal job by sharing a (different) job with a friend who was already working at MVSTA.

• Get entrepreneurial.  Why wait for someone to tell you what to do? Make your mark with a new idea, product or service that folks haven’t thought of yet.

And finally: Appreciate where you are.
Wonder if the magical natural places you play would wither into same-old, same-old status if you lived and worked there, day in, day out? Not the case, says Kristen: “People who live here never forget” just how beautiful the Methow Valley is.


Posted on at 1:14 PM

Tagged: Cross-country skiing, MVSTA, Methow Valley, rei and snow sports

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We should all be so lucky... quite an inspiration and great story.

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