Brett Davis does it all: he’s kayaked rivers on three continents and journeyed by fat bike and packraft down the remote Lost Coast of Alaska. He dreams of skiing all of the major lines in the San Juan Mountains, straight from his backdoor. He teaches avalanche education. In the summer, Brett alpine rock climbs. And on top of all that, he somehow manages to be the Director of the Outdoor Pursuits program at Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO. Read below as Brett shares about how he got started, his most memorable adventures, upcoming projects and dreams, and more. To see some of Brett’s contributions to Switchback Travel, check out the links below the article.
Where are you from? What is your other job?
For the past ten years, Durango, CO, has been the place I call home. I grew up the son of a career military officer, so my formative years were spent on the move. I believe my family moved close to thirteen times before I finished college. As a kid, home was wherever the moving truck was parked. As a credit to my parents and their amazing attitudes of always embracing change, I learned to adapt to new environments and see everything as an opportunity for adventure. These attributes have contributed to who and where I am today.
I found myself in Durango to assume the role of the Director of the Outdoor Pursuits (OP) program at Fort Lewis College. This comprehensive collegiate outdoor recreation program has a storied 40-year history of exploring the deserts, rivers, and mountains of the Four Corners region and beyond. For me it is a dream job – I get to work daily with enthusiastic college students, sharing my passion for the outdoors and adventuring far and wide.
How did you get started in the outdoors?
Every move was an adventure to my parents and thus, outdoor activities were a part of those adventures. We camped, hiked, skied, backpacked, and biked as a family. I would say we dabbled in these pursuits – they were not the sole focus of our family time like they are for many of the students that I work with who grew up in Colorado. Through those family experiences though, the embers of a future passion were lit. However, this smoldering fire would not grow into the bonfire it is today until after college and the ending of my basketball career. Basketball was the family obsession – so much so that it consumed my life up until the end of college. Upon graduation, I started a job as a collegiate coach, but my desire to get outside was too strong. Each sojourn of rock climbing, backpacking, kayaking, and mountain biking got longer and longer. I eventually left my coaching job, heading east to the University of Massachusetts to pursue a master’s degree with a focus on the business side of adventure sports. The rest is history as I am now in my twentieth year working in collegiate outdoor recreation, as well as pursuing my own adventures around the world.
What are your activities of choice?
This is a hard one. As a seasoned outdoor professional working in a college outdoor program, I have a varied and extensive skill set that allows me to pursue the preferred activities of each season. To characterize it all: if it requires a helmet, I’m probably pursuing it. When winter arrives in Colorado, I am skiing, ice climbing, fat biking, and teaching avalanche education. As the landscape begins to blossom and the snowpack begins to melt, all pursuits involving water take precedence. And so on for each season. I am proud to say that I am not a master of any pursuit, but because of my many years of getting after it, I can confidently participate in most at fairly high levels. This only seems to expand my adventure opportunities.
Tell us about one of your most memorable adventures.
This is another hard question as there are too many that stand out to prioritize just one. Since I made the decision to make my passion a career, I feel like I have been on one non-stop expedition, moving from one trip to the next. Perhaps one of the more memorable life experiences was the nearly two years of world travel I embarked on after finishing my master’s degree. Spurning the societal pressures to get a job, a friend and I bought plane tickets to far off locales. We whitewater kayaked in central America and New Zealand; trekked the Inca Trail and through the wilds of Patagonia; mountain biked, trekked, and climbed among the giants of the Himalayas; rock climbed the steep limestone walls of Thailand; and explored all of the adventure possibilities of the American West. It was an amazing journey that I would like to duplicate at some point later in life.
What is one of your all-time favorite pieces of gear?
Given all of the activities that I pursue, my garage looks like an outdoor gear store with bikes, skis, kayaks, etc. hanging from the rafters and covering the floor space. A friend jokingly remarked the other day that he wanted a library card to be able to check out any of the equipment in my garage. With that said, I never strike out for a day or more outside without my Wild Things Equipment wind shirt. This trusty friend has been worn to the top of some of the world’s highest peaks and been ridden down miles of epic single track. It is a great lightweight intermediate layer that blocks a biting wind and provides protection from an unrelenting sun. Any time I have forgotten this jacket, I regretted it the entire trip.
What does your next dream trip look like?
Like most in my tribe, the adventure bucket list is full. If you ask my wife, she will tell you that I am always scheming and day dreaming about some master plan in the outdoors. In the next year or two, we will be heading to Japan to experience some of the bottomless powder that is the dream of all backcountry skiers. Speaking of ski adventures, for years I have wanted to bike and ski my way through my home mountain range. Leaving right from my doorstep, the plan is to ride into the heart of the San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado and ski all of the major lines. This trip was scheduled for this spring, but has been put on hold for another year due to our low snow year and some unexpected work commitments. Additionally, I hope to return to Alaska (read about Brett’s packrafting/bike packing trip down Alaska’s Lost Coast) to continue my exploration of this amazing land.
Do you have any projects that you would like to share? Where can we follow and learn more about you?
For the past year or so, I have been tinkering with an idea that has recently begun to manifest in a website called the Lesson Collective. As you may have learned through this interview, in many ways my life is defined and influenced by adventure. Through these experiences I have discovered what motivates me, developed my values, and learned many life lessons. The vision of the Lesson Collective is to share these experiences and lessons through words, voice, imagery, and other creative ways. However, the focus of the project is not solely on me and my own life lessons; rather, I want to bring together others who have used adventure to learn about themselves and the world to share their experiences and wisdom. Ultimately, I hope the Lesson Collective can evolve into an anthology of the sage advice that the deserts, mountains, rivers, and oceans impart upon those who enjoy them on a regular basis.
If anyone has an interest in joining the community, they should visit the website and check out the “Contribute” link. This creative endeavor is in its infancy, but I have big plans for it. Whether or not those aspirations are realized, it is going to be a fun and great learning experience for me and for everyone involved. You can also follow me on Instagram at @brettrdavis, or learn more about the Outdoor Pursuits program at Fort Lewis College.