Philmont Staff Q & A

Information provided by Brian Gannon and John Wisinger, past Philmont Staff.
  1. Does Phlmont staff have to commit to working the entire summer?

    Brian:

    Not necessarily. There is a contract to be signed, but they are always flexible, especially when it comes to school-related obligations. Time off is generally not a problem to get.

    John:

    Lots of people have to get back a little before the end of summer primarily due to school. Just state this on your application and that will be fine. Philmont will sometimes request proof of start date from your school just to make sure (although sometimes they skip that). As long as you are there for most of the summer, they will work with you. If you just want to work for some little part of the summer, a job is possible, but not likely. If something happens in the middle if the summer and you have to leave, there's nothing to stop you, but it reduces your chances of getting hired in a later summer. Also remember that days off are based on having a certain number of staff. If people start leaving, those who are left have to cover for them. If someone quits in the middle of summer, replacements are harder to find, and the rest of their staff has to do extra duty.

  2. If so, is a break allowed?

    John:

    While I have heard of people getting a couple weeks off in the middle of the summer for things like National Guard duty or various emergencies, I don't know of anyone who just got a big break in the middle for a random reason. If you're good at sweet talking, it may be possible though.

  3. I assume there is a contract to sign?

    John:

    Yes, but as with most of these types of jobs, the contract can be terminated by either party at any time for any reason (in other words you can be fired if you did something really stupid, and you can quit if you want and still get paid for the work you did up to that point).

  4. What are the typical work schedules/days off for the ranger, base camp and backcountry positions?

    Brian:

    Ranger: each crew assignment is 4 days, with the 4th day being the hike-in day when they leave their crew (so it's almost a day off as the entire day is pretty mucn yours to do whatever you want). You will usually get a full day off after every 2 crews, though that varies depending upon staffing levels in the department.

    Base Camp: Depending on the particular department, the work schedule is 5 on/2 off or 4 on/3 off (the dining hall does a 4/3 rotation and that has worked really well). There are always backpacking opportunities for all staff on days off. Philmont will supply any necessary equipment, including trail food.

    Backcountry: they work 9 days on then 3 days off. They can either hike around the backcountry or goo base camp and then do whatever they want from there. You can either hike to the nearest turnaround and catch a bus back to base, or there are often vehicles (chaplains, commissary trucks, etc.) that make runs to the backcountry and it's easy to catch a ride back with them.

    John:

    There are no official work schedules that go from year to year. They are set by the individual managers of each department or camp. Most base camp jobs get tons of days off. Dining hall staff has traditionally worked 4 days a week and gotten 3 off. Trading post, activities, etc. get a little less but still a good amount of days off.

    Backcountry staff once again depends on the camp director for that individual camp, but it is usually 6 days on 2 off or 9 days on 3 off.

    Rangers get a lot less days off unless you count the "hike-in" day. On the day a ranger leaves their crew, they can usually do whatever they want (so it's a day off, but you start it wherever you leave your crew). They also get a few other days off in the summer, but not as many as base camp jobs.

  5. Are there backpacking opportunities for base camp staff?

    John:

    Definately. I spent 3 of my 6 summers working in base camp for just that reason. Backcountry staffers need to use their days off to take showers, do laundry, etc. Base camp people can do that on their working days, so they can use all of their days off in the backcountry. When I worked in base, as soon as I got off work on day, I would try to catch one of the busses bringing campers or one of the food delivery vehicles out to the backcountry (or have a friend drive me to one of the turnarounds). From there I could hike whever I wanted and either hike back into base or catch a ride back with a truck or bus. I saw every camp (staff and non staffed) and almost every trail on Philmont (but they are always building new ones). When I worked in the backcountry, I probably saw 4-5 camps the whole summer.

  6. How often do the backcountry staff get to "civilization"?

    John:

    Depends on your days off schedule on your personal preferences. As I said, most schedules are 9 on 3 off, so every 9 days you could get back to base camp and if you have a car (or know someone who does), you can even go into town (or one of the nearby larger cities). Personally, when I was in the backcountry, I went to base camp just long enough for a shower and laundry then I was back out on the trail. Some people spend all their days off going to town and hanging out in base camp. I used to pick up all my checks at the end of the summer, because if you don't leave the backcountry, you can't spend any money. It's all a matter of preference.

  7. Do you audition for the singing/musical instrument staff spots in the backcountry where the campfires are held?

    John:

    Not really. However, if a person has worked at Philmont one summer and done well at campfires (or just played well when hanging out at camps), they will easily get a campfire camp the following year if they want. In effect that is sort of an audition. There are usually a couple people at each campfire camp that have no musical ability as well since campfire is only part of the program.

  8. What is the pay like?

    Brian:

    It's been a few years since I've worked there, but the starting salary in 2000 was somewhere around $725 per month with all room and board included. Pay has always been a big issue because Philmont is trying to recruit and retain high-quality staff. In 1997, the starting pay was a little over $500, so you can be sure it's gone up since 2000.

    John:

    I'm not sure if it's okay to say numbers or not. In short, it's the highest paying camp I've ever seen, but if you only count salary, you can make more money bagging groceries. If you add the fact that you get free room and board all summer, it's pretty good. If you add the intangibles, it's amazing.

  9. I believe your meals are covered, but what about on days off?

    Brian:

    Meals are covered every day, including days off. As I said earlier, trail food is available for those who go into the backcountry on their days off. Otherwise, the dining hall in base camp is available (and the staff meals are actually very good).

    John:

    You can eat in the dining hall in base camp whether you are working or on days off. If you go hiking, you can get free trail food (same as the campers eat). Backcountry camps are supplied with plenty of food, so if you can cook, you'll eat the best food on the ranch.

  10. Anything else they would find interesting?

    Brian:

    Just be prepared for the one of the best summers of their lives. Having a car is helpful - even though it's Philmont, a break is nice once in a while. However, there are always plenty of rides availble to Cimarron, Taos or Raton (or further...). All base camp/Ranger housing is in shared 8x10 platform tents - they're not too bad and they do have electricity and storage lockers. Bringing a fan would be a good idea as they do heat up during the day. Showers and laundry are available a short walk away.

    John:

    Get the application in early. Be specific (say things like "rock climbing camp", not just "backcountry"), it will help you get chosen over others. If you are a first year, always put at least one base camp position on your application. Many first years get ranger, backcountry, conservation, etc. but don't count on it. In general the more "cool" your job is, the less days off you get (but I always thought of backcountry work as 3 months off anyway). Those who drive vehicles into the backcountry make it a high priority to get base camp staff members out to visit camps if they want (mainly as a future recruitment tool), so use that if you can.

    Brian Gannon
    Philmont Ranger 1997-2000

    John Wisinger
    1997 Trading Post Warehouse Grunt
    1998 Ponil Trading Post Manager
    1999 Trading Post Warehouse Manager
    2000 Trading Post Warehouse Manager
    2001 Camp Director - Pueblano
    2002 Roving Prospector (greatest job ever)


See also:

The content of this Web page was provided by Brian Gannon and John Wisinger. Please contact them directly for more information.

This Web page is maintained by Selden Ball at Wilson Lab.
Please send any comments or corrections to seb@lepp.cornell.edu