Axie Navas’ bachelorette party was actually a backcountry ski trip with six friends to a hut deep in the mountains outside her hometown of Vail, Colorado.
As it turns out, it wasn’t such a great idea.
Two feet of snow had fallen the night before, and while the skiers knew to avoid avalanche-prone areas, they had to break their own trail and didn’t reach the hut until dark.
“A couple of us were struggling by the end,” Navas says. “We didn’t know where the next group was, and we ended up doing a reconnaissance mission at night to bring them in. We might have been better served by staying home and roasting marshmallows on a fire.”
Navas, the first director of New Mexico’s nearly 1½-year-old Outdoor Recreation Division, has spent much of her life outside, starting with ski lessons when she was 2 years old.
Her job is to promote the state’s outdoor places as a way to build revenues and employment opportunities. In fact, the division is located within New Mexico’s Economic Development Department.
Its mission also includes conservation and access, partly through a special fund that helps disadvantaged youths get outside.
“We want to sing from the rooftops what a great outdoor recreation destination this state is and talk about how we need to invest in these places both for the sake of New Mexicans,” Navas says. “… But then also because we recognize … that tourism can be a huge driver of rural economies.”
Navas says, for her, the outdoors has always provided solace and a refuge from every day concerns. In fact, part of the lure is a sense of danger sometimes and the wisdom she gains from those experiences.
“Some of my sharpest memories are probably the ones that are tinged with some fear about decision-making, that I’ve tried to get better at and learn from,” says Navas, who previously was digital editorial director at Outside Magazine. “I think that realization that you can grow up and be comfortable in the outdoors, and yet there’s still so much that one can’t plan for and there’s a lot of vulnerability there. It is almost part of the solace that I’ve found in being outside, frankly.”
How did you end up in New Mexico?
“My mom loved to spend time in northern and southern New Mexico, like Las Cruces, Santa Fe. So we would do road trips all the time. My grandfather actually owned an art gallery for about 20 years in Santa Fe. So I … have felt a special affinity for this place, and it was just under 10 years ago, I was lucky enough to get a job that brought me here (an online gear review site) and haven’t left since then. It’s very much my adopted home.”
When you were a kid, is this what you envisioned doing?
“At an early stage, I really wanted to fly F-16s and be a fighter pilot. It was early, and I don’t think I had the vision for that, or just probably the stamina. So from middle school, I always thought I wanted to work in outdoor media – Outside or National Geographic – and back in middle school, you know what that looks like is, ‘Oh, I’m going to travel the world and write and be a photographer.’ There are people who do that, but also for a lot of people, you’re behind a desk. So that dream evolved from traveling around the world shooting photos to working as an editor and being able to put forth good stories, excellent stories, about the topics that resonated for me for so long.”
“Public land policy, conservation priorities, inclusion, too, thinking about how representation in the outdoor industry is really limited. I think that’s changing and changing rapidly, probably, but it has been limited for a long time. There have been barriers to enter both that space as an industry, but also the places it’s been built upon. I think that a lot of legacy media – I think Outside would be one of the ones first to talk about this – is that representation there and in catalogs and in legacy media, gear catalogs, has historically been white and male, and that is changing.”
What’s an example of something you’re proud of as head of the outdoor division?
“The specific project that’s actually well under way that I get really excited about is that we invested $10,000 (through the Outdoor Equity Fund) in a Gallup-based nonprofit … with that money going toward a mobile bike shop that’s traveling through … the Gallup area and also the Navajo Nation to fix kids’ bikes. It’s super cool. We’re working with a mechanic there who’s from the Navajo Nation. He’s been donating his time to fix kids’ bikes who have been stuck inside for months and months and will continue to have to socially distance because of the pandemic.”
Where are your favorite places?
“Probably the three peaks of the Truchas range – whether you define them as one mountain or three summits, but just that Truchas cirque. It’s so spectacular back there. I love the quintessential New Mexico, where you can hike for hours and just not see anyone and you get the landscapes that you don’t get anywhere else. But I love southern New Mexico, looking out at the Organs from that stretch of highway and then actually getting to explore some of those bonier peaks has been pretty special. And I live in Taos County, and one of my favorite places is right here in my backyard. Gallina peak and Lucero up into the canyon of Taos Ski Valley.”
What was your first job?
“I worked in the information booth in Vail, Colorado. I manned the visitor center. I was 14 through 18 (years old). And then I was also a ski instructor for a decent chunk of that time.”
How would you describe what you get from being in the outdoors?
I feel like both personally and professionally, I’ve gotten so much. I’d say it’s where I have found so much solace in many ways, where I feel most like myself, human, but also connected to this larger landscape and narrative that I am just a tiny, tiny part of. It’s like you get a so-called reframing or sense of reality when you’re out there in the big mountains. It’s a good check on any hubris or stress we might feel. It puts that in perspective.”