top of page

A Young Dirtbag's Guide to Surviving Shoulder Season

Congrats, rookie! You made it through your first season as a raft guide and survived life amongst the wolves.

But summer's over. The river has dried up and there's no more work. The pack has moved on in search of more plentiful hunting grounds and guide camp's empty (except for that one weird guy who eats his scabs and was stealing out of the community fridge all summer).

The senior guides all left for a week-long river trip that you weren't invited on, because, quite frankly, you're a little bit annoying, slightly incompetent, and about as interesting as a bowl of split pea soup.

That's ok, though. We were all that guy once.

This summer changed your life. You stumbled upon a sport and a subculture that few people even know exists. You got to experience multi-boat, big water missions at the start of the season. You swam big rapids, summited a few 14,000 foot peaks and managed to only drop a dozen or so commercial guests into the drink.

Everything was incredible. From the theme parties and costumes to the backcountry chalet trips. There was rock climbing, games of horseshoes, watching Sunset TV, fireside romps that went 'til dawn and that third-year chick with the purple hair and septum piercing who spent the last month and a half of summer in your tent. Nicely done, son.

Now, I know she said she'd call you when she returned from backpacking around Southeast Asia. But, unfortunately, it's more likely that she meets some dude with a compass tattoo and a trust fund waiting back in the States. He probably plays the pan flute, wears jewelry like Jack Sparrow, and is planning to open a dispensary in Boulder (thanks to a generous investment from his Uncle). They're gonna be dropping tabs of acid and petting imaginary elephants in the jungle for the foreseeable future.

You have to accept that it's likely over, bud. And in truth, she may not have liked you all that much in the first place. You may have just been holding the right bag, at the right time, all summer long.

It's all over, as a matter of fact. Until next summer at least. Welcome to the life of a seasonal employee.

So, what's next? You can't hang out in camp, staring at the empty firepit and reminiscing 'til the leaves change colors. You're officially homeless and jobless. And your bank account isn't looking real stout.

In the Golden Age of Guiding, river rats would migrate further west at season’s end, where they'd subsist on ramen and Chinese Nose Soda. They'd trim weed for 16 hours at a time, then walk away after a few months with fistfuls of untaxed cash– free to travel the world, blow it all on a boat and new snowboard, pay a winter's worth of rent upfront, or head to Vegas.

But with the advent of legalization, those kinds of paydays are just about dead and gone.

You can go the ski town route, but that'll be tough with limited funds. Signing up for a job as a liftie could be the move. You'll get hooked up with cold-weather gear, a season pass and a spot in employee housing. But, you'll only be making like eleven bucks an hour, spending more time bumping chairs than skiing and could end up with a roommate weirder than Ol' Eats-His-Scabs.

Doesn't sound appealing, huh? Still interested in a season on the cold stuff anyway? Then pick your dream ski town and head there NOW. Live in your truck and take a job waiting tables. Put the word out that you're in the market for housing, try to stack as much cash as you can ‘til the weather turns harsh, and pray that a room opens up before the first big snow dump. If nothing turns up, you might be fucked. Then again, you might not be. Who knows? You could find a wealthy girlfriend with keys to the family vacation home, or a drug dealer that won't even notice you sleeping on his couch 'til St. Patty's day. After entering the ski town-service-industry-vortex, the nights rarely end, and the possibilities are endless.

There's always the desert too. Moab is an otherworldly place. Arches National Park is awe-inspiring and there are mind-boggling sandstone monoliths scattered for miles in the surrounding BLM land. It's the rock climbing mecca of the American West and you'll have no trouble finding someone to put up a route with you. There’s free camping everywhere and tons of folks congregate for weeks at a time; new friends creating makeshift communities, pop-up parties under the full moon, and a nonstop chase for the next outdoor adventure.

But be forewarned; work is scarce, the Texans have expanded their Jeep conquest there, and shit can get REAL weird out in the sand. Trust me. It's where I got drunk and played dice with a midget in a full-body spandex suit, saw a naked senior citizen ride his motorcycle into a river and had a two-hour conversation with a Juniper tree after my first foray into the world of funny fungus.

Have you heard of WorkAway or WOOFing? Maybe that's your ticket. Do a quick Google search and you'll find endless opportunities to help out with sustainable farming projects, home renovations, raising livestock or property upkeep, in exchange for three square meals a day and a roof over your head. You'll connect with the Earth and work with your hands in a peaceful setting. Best of all, at the end of your stint, you'll leave with a whole new set of skills you never thought yourself capable of learning.

However, you should be prepared to live on a diet of nothing but vegetables, chia seeds and oat milk. You also run the risk of being beaten over the head with the most hardcore brand of hippie-ness there is. You're used to living with coworkers who shower sparingly and are a bit eccentric, but this is a whole 'nother dimension. All manner of oddballs flock to these sort of set ups. I'm talking self-proclaimed warlocks and psychics, people who sun their assholes every day at dawn, siblings that are "ethically incestuous", and a chick who legitimately tries to tell people that her name is 'Water'.

Ever met a dude with a bone through his nose who drinks his own urine once a week because he saw a Reddit post about the spiritual benefits of such a practice? No? Well, you just might get your chance in this line of work!

If that doesn't sound like your jam, as a last resort, you could always stay in the valley you’re already in. Just buy a family-size bottle of Jergen's Non-Scented lotion and hole up in your tent alone, 'til the snow melts and the river starts running again come springtime.

So there you go, kid. The world of mountain towns, ski bummin', nomads and dirtbaggery is your oyster. You've got options, so, pick one.

Or just give up and call your parents, dude.

You'd probably be better off.



bottom of page