All About Becoming an Interpreter

What does it mean to be an Interpreter? 

If you have ever been to a Northern Tier program either Summer or Winter, then you are probably familiar with our Interpreter program. Each crew that goes on a trek with us gets paired with one of our interpreters who has been trained on the programs and activities that you signed up for. Whether you’re dog sledding across a frozen lake or paddling a lake in a canoe, at Northern Tier, you will always have one of these trained staff members to guide you on your way, teach you new skills, and inform you about the history of the land. Today, let’s go through the basics of what an interpreter does, who they are, and how you, yes you, can become one!  


Summer vs Winter  

While being a staff member at Northern Tier in summer and winter can have its similarities, it is a very different experience and requires different skills that we teach during training. During the winter, our staff spends time training on cross country skiing, loading sleds for backcountry travel, operating a stove in cold weather, and many other winter-specific tasks. Contrast this to the summer where staff train on learning to paddle canoes, portage effectively, and how to set up a summer camp  

It’s not just basic camp skills that require different training. The environment varies greatly between the two seasons so while winter training spends a lot of time covering, frostbite, hypothermia, and clothing, the summer training spends time focusing on thunderstorms, extreme wind, and storm-proofing camp. The experiences are both amazing but to keep things simple, the rest of this post will focus on the summer experience. We would love to make a post talking about the winter experiences so if you are interested leave a comment down below!  


Prior Experience and requirements   

No experience needed! The only requirement is that you must be 18 or older. Our interpreters come from all parts of the country with varying levels of outdoor/scouting experiences but each one receives the same basic training that teaches backcountry skills. Most of our staff are around college age and it makes a great summer job. You can come up to Northern Tier having never camped a day in your life but if you are open to new experiences and work hard to learn new skills then you will have the opportunity to be a successful interpreter. It’s a common misconception that in order to be an interpreter you have to be very fit but this is not right. While being an interpreter is physically demanding, most males and females over the age of 18 will be able to meet the physical requirements to be an interpreter at Northern Tier. 


The job of an Interpreter  

It is a fine line that separates a Northern Tier interpreter from a traditional guide, most of which comes down to scouting’s aims and ideals. Scouts BSA strives to be a “youth-led” organization and Northern Tier fulfills that goal through our program. The interpreter works to make sure that youth participants are as active in the process as possible. They choose the route, they set the schedule, and they set up camp. Most scouts have never been to Northern Tier before though, so that is where the interpreter comes in. Interpreters are first and foremost a safety officer but only when necessary. Most of the time interpreters are acting as teachers helping the crews to a state of self-reliance. The skills that interpreters learn through their training are the same ones that they will work to pass on to the scouts throughout their trip. All of this can be in contrast to the job of a traditional guide that does most of the heavy lifting for clients. Although all our Interpreters are registered guides with the U.S. Forest Service, they strive to be more than that by passing along skills and knowledge to the scouts  


What does training look like?  

Summer training takes place in late May, early June, and lasts about 2 weeks. One of the things we do to accommodate as many folks as possible is by offering 2 waves of training. This allows us to get a jump start on the season with an earlier group of training while still being able to train staff who can’t make it to Northern Tier as early due to school, or other jobs.   

The 2 weeks of training are split up into two distinct sections. The first week of training is our “on base” training. While on base, interpreters spend time learning the hard skills and safety precautions necessary to safely take crews into the North Woods. Some of the things taught during this first week include the Leave No Trace principles, knots, fire building, how to handle weather hazards, backcountry stove maintenance, and a whole host of other necessary skills. Also included in the first week of on-base training is a 2-day Wilderness First Aid course teaching our staff how to handle backcountry emergencies.   

The second week of training is swamper week. Swamper is a staff trip where training interpreters go on a 5-day canoe trip with 2 experienced trainers to reinforce the skills learned on base and to pick up new skills while being in the environment where they will work. Swamper is a crucial part of our training because it is where new interpreters will get firsthand experience on how to deal with the Northwoods. Skills like bear bag hanging, fire building, knots, canoe strokes are all practiced and learned while on the swamper trips. Once the swamper trip gets back there is a final review of training and staff members who completed training start to prepare for their first trips!  


What does the Schedule look like?  

In a typical summer, an interpreter will spend around 70% of the summer on trips into the wilderness once they get through training. Trips range from 5-14 days with a majority being in the 5-7 day range. The day after an interpreter gets back from a trip is a workday with the following day being a day off. Most likely interpreters receive a crew the day after a day off and then leave the following day on their trip, if not then the interpreter will have another workday before receiving a crew. (Check out the graphic below to get a better idea of the schedule in-between trips) This puts most interpreters spending 3-4 days on base in-between trips with 1 or 2 of those being a day off. If a trip is 10 days or longer staff receive 2 days off after it. There are a lot of nuances to the interpreter’s schedules and things can change at a moment’s notice, so this is just an outline to get an idea of how it works. 



Time off 

Everybody loves a good day off and it is no different for our staff. With being on the edge of the wilderness the opportunities for exploration are endless and each of our 3 bases has a town nearby with varying amenities. Staff have the option to check out canoes and other equipment from Northern Tier as well to help them explore canoe country. Every summer Northern Tier staff bond through shared experiences and create a strong welcoming culture. This means that there is never a shortage of people to go exploring with or hang around on a day off.   


Different Bases  

Northern Tier consists of three individual bases. The main base is located in Ely, MN and the two Canadian satellite bases are in Bissett, MB, and Atikokan, ON. Staff have the opportunity to apply for any of the 3 bases however the Canadian bases are smaller so it can be a little more competitive. Regardless of which base an interpreter works at, the job remains the same and all training happens in Ely, MN  


Is being an interpreter for you?  

Do you have a longing for adventure? Do you love teaching in the outdoors? Then being an interpreter might be the job for you. The job is exhausting but it can be incredibly fulfilling and an amazing way to spend a summer! 



How and when to Apply  

The best time to apply is in the Fall/Winter prior to the Summer you want to work for your best shot at getting a position. We do accept applications year-round and sometimes hire up to the start of the summer so don’t let the time of year discourage you from getting that application in! You can call during business hours at 218.365.4811 if you have more questions about the position and you can start the application process by going to