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It’s become clear that 2020 and 2021 were boom years for the outdoor industry. With newly flexible work schedules (or no work at all) and stimulus checks in their pockets, coupled with a global pandemic seemingly only avoided by avoiding other people, Americans flocked to the Great Outdoors.

We rushed out to buy mountain bikes, paddle boards, skis, and rafting gear in record numbers. Supply chains interrupted by Covid-19 struggled to keep up, only increasing the value and desirability of these products by introducing scarcity. On the guiding and instruction side, classes in how to use this equipment and safely enjoy time spent outside filled beyond capacity. NOLS semesters, college recreation and outdoor leadership courses, gap year programs, and summer camps brought more young people out of doors than ever before.

It was wild times in the wild for sure.

In August 2021, the memo came across our desk at the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center corporate office in sunny Buena Vista, Colo. Subject: FWD: Executive Order for Minimum Wage – Important. President Biden had declared “government contractors” (businesses that provide services for the government, from cleaning to food service to construction) must pay employees on federal projects a minimum wage of $15 per hour by the end of January 2022.

Scrolling down the order, signed by the president last April, the last bullet point stated the new legislation will “Restore minimum wage protections to outfitters and guides operating on federal lands.” What…? But as a guiding service in Colorado’s iconic Arkansas River Valley, we are not contractors but permittees. 

Nonetheless, as the management team sat down to review finances after a second whirlwind summer, we decided increasing wages would help us continue attracting experienced, professional guides and instructors to our staff.  It is finally time that we as the outdoor industry address wages and benefits in what we hope is becoming a less stigmatized career choice for our employees and full-time staff (including the three owner/operators of this company).

RMOC and many other outfitters view guides as the heart and soul of our industry. They deserve to be compensated not just fairly, but in accordance with their investment in training, certification, and equipment costs for the job. While guides should not be “paid in sunsets,” as has become a catch phrase on social media and other outdoor professional forums, there are many intangible benefits to doing this type of work.  “The fresh air and views are certainly nice,” says Brandon, an adventure specialist at RMOC. “But mostly I enjoy sharing my passions with others.”

Anyone who is interested in outdoor adventure guiding or instructing will need to start by obtaining relevant certifications.  We make this easy at RMOC by offering all of our courses in-house, at our riverside campus.  Certificates can be obtained from American Canoe Association, American Mountain Guides Association, American Red Cross, and more.  Side note, these courses are great for anyone looking to lead trips with friends, their local paddling club, or college outdoor program. More details at:

Outdoor professionals live their passion every day, receive gear “prodeals,” and enjoy a sense of camaraderie among their fellow guides – whether around a local campfire or amongst the global community of like-minded individuals. With this type of employment becoming more viable, will this be the summer that you join them? See for current openings.  –Kate Stepan, Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center human resources manager

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