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Alumni stories

Alumnus’ adventuring goes pro

Brandon Mathis is like many Fort Lewis College alumni: he’s an outdoor-oriented adventurer. “I love to ride and ski and climb all year long,” Mathis (Humanities, ’05) says. “It’s not just a summer or winter thing.”

Rather than push his passions to the weekends, though, Mathis has developed a career doing the activities he loves during the workweek—and sharing his experiences with the outdoor community.

Flowers in the mountainsAfter graduating from FLC, Mathis combined his passions as a freelance writer specializing in the outdoors, writing gear reviews for outdoor magazines and bicycling stories for local alternative newspapers. His writing and his dedication eventually earned him a post as a general assignment reporter for The Durango Herald.

His breakthrough came with the show Breaking Point on 4CornersTV, run by Ballantine Communications, Inc., which also publishes the Herald. The show was a series of short episodes, written, hosted, and narrated by Mathis, that highlighted extreme athletes and their adventures in the Southwest. From ice climbing and mountain biking to erecting a highline space net, Mathis sought stories of people interacting with the extreme (and extremely rewarding) landscapes in the region.

The Breaking Point episodes are still available on the 4CornersTV website. If you watch closely, you’ll see a familiar face on several videos—Mathis himself often jumped into the action. “Climbing, skiing, biking. A lot of times, those are shots of me doing that stuff,” he says. “I was lucky, since a lot of those things were really fun to do.”

Rock climberThe show was a creative success, Mathis says. After two years on air, though, he felt it needed to evolve. He wanted to expand on the local and regional enthusiasm for getting outside and engaging with challenging activities.

So when he saw an open niche in regional outdoor-specific entertainment, Mathis seized it. He developed an online multimedia site called Adventure Pro, also with the support of Ballantine Communications. Adventure Pro publishes several types of stories, including how-tos, location guides, and gear reviews.

Adventure Pro is currently a web-only venture, though Mathis is preparing to launch a print version in November. The free quarterly will circulate throughout the wider Four Corners area.

The main category of features, called “Explore,” captures field-based stories of professional athletes, experts, and “just cool people who like to do something,” Mathis explains. For instance, the website recently covered a Navajo river guide on the San Juan River in Utah, a yoga festival in Sedona, backcountry splitboarding (which Mathis calls “the quiet side of snowboarding”), and whitewater stand-up paddle boarders in Colorado.

The stories feature videos that Mathis says are a direct descendant of Breaking Point. A different emphasis with Adventure Pro, though, is to make the activities and explorations accessible for everyday adventurers.

“We’re trying to reach aspiring people,” Mathis says. “Maybe they just came here to go to Fort Lewis College, or they just got a job here. Maybe they want to get better at skiing, or they want to check out stand-up paddle boarding, but they don’t know how to ask. We want to make it really attainable for them, and even be valuable to somebody that’s been doing it a long time.”

Altimeter watch in the mountains“I want nothing more than to get people excited about being outside, learning that they can actually do something that they thought was impossible, or that they’d never be able to do,” he adds.

As much as Mathis’s success is based on his talents, though, he also attributes his accomplishments to the people he works with. Adventure Pro is a team effort: Mathis goes into the field with a videographer, works with a content manager to maintain the website, and relies on a senior video producer.

“I used to be this lone wolf,” he admits, “and the world just doesn’t work like that.”

As an example of the teamwork that goes into a video shoot, Mathis tells a story of one Breaking Point shoot at Fisher Towers in Utah. Weather was uncooperative. With a short window for the photographer to snap a drone shot, Mathis climbed a summit as wide around as a coffee table—and they didn’t get the shot.

Not the first time, anyway.

“I had to go back up,” he says. “It was pretty heady. But just knowing that we were doing it, that we got the shot together, all the hard work paid off. That feeling is probably my favorite thing.”

This career in adventure publication is an excellent fit for Mathis. But as with most meaningful successes, he did not simply slide into Adventure Pro or Breaking Point. He built his career from the ground up, beginning with his time as a student at FLC.

Fly fishing“I was a non-traditional student. I had some real life issues going on with my family. I didn’t just walk in out of high school and live in the dorms,” Mathis says. “It was tough, but I am so happy that I was able to get that experience. To go to college when I was in my late twenties, I think I took so much more away from it.”

He had long dreamed of being a writer and took several writing classes at FLC. “I learned to take risks in writing and be creative,” Mathis says.

He credits his FLC experience with teaching him how to work as an effective team member, essential to making his present career work. He admits that he used to dread group projects in school. “But group projects set the tone for the next fifteen years of my life,” he says. “I certainly am working in one big group project right now. Any project that gets done in Adventure Pro, there are four or five people that make it happen. Learning that real life experience in college, and now doing this every day, feels good.”

On par with the academic skills he gained, Mathis also garnered the approach to life that enabled him to combine his writing dream with his outdoor passions.

“I really enjoyed being in this environment where a lot of the professors, not just the student body, love being here and love the outdoors,” Mathis says. “Whether they’re climbing peaks or taking river trips, I saw these successful, mature, career intellectuals and professors, and they are doing this. They are experiencing the Southwest lifestyle. That was really inspiring to me.”

“I’ve learned from the relationships I build with people,” Mathis adds. “Sometimes you challenge each other, but you grow from that, and good things happen.”

Photos courtesy of Adventure Pro on Instagram, @swadventurepro

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Tags: outdoors Humanities