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On New Years & Twenty Years: A conversation with Brad Ludden

By: Anna Kenyon & Brad Ludden

It’s the New Year, but for FD it’s not just any year…it’s our twentieth anniversary! In the spirit of New Year’s goal setting, adventure planning and #OutLivingIt, we sat down with First Descents’ founder Brad Ludden to reflect on two life-changing decades, and to learn more about his vision for 2020 and beyond!

FD: What are you most looking forward to for this milestone year, and what are your organizational goals in the year ahead?

BL: This is indeed a tremendous milestone in so many ways. For me, it’s an opportunity to both reflect and daydream. Regarding reflection, I see this year as an opportunity to honor those we’ve met who are no longer with us, but have left a powerful and lasting impact on our lives. An opportunity to reflect about lessons learned, failures experienced, friends made and all those who wrote a page in the book that is FD 20 years later… a book that wouldn’t be complete without them.

As it relates to daydreaming, I feel this is FD’s chance to set our intention for the next two decades. Our dream is about just how much impact we can make, adventures we can provide and lives we can change. How can we reach every young adult in need and get them onto the rocks, rivers and waves? Connect them to a community of friends and family going through so many shared challenges? What page will they write in the chapters to come? Daydreaming about these things fills me with an excitement that’s hard to convey in words, but simply put, the future is incredibly bright and full of opportunity and endless adventure.

FD: The new year is also a special time to reflect. What are a couple of your favorite memories from the past twenty years of FD adventures? 

BL: As I mentioned, this is such a tremendous opportunity to reflect, honor and thank all those who made the FD journey possible. For me personally, there are countless memories that define the history of FD over the past 20 years, but if I had to pick two, I’d say the first would be our very first program. After all, that was the single most defining moment for FD. It set the course for the future, proved that adventure is truly healing and became our stake in the sand from which we marched forward with one goal in mind: to deliver adventure to as many young adults as possible. Before that first program FD was just an idea, but by the end of it, FD was real. And it’s that flame that was lit on that program that continues to burn bright today.

The second milestone was when we served 1,000 participants in a single year. After our first program (we served 15 participants and it took everything we had to pull it off) the board asked me to set an audacious goal, one which we might never achieve, but one that could be a beacon on the horizon to track toward. I thought 1,000 participants in one year was that number, honestly never believing we’d realize it. But we did, and in doing so we all became inspired to think even bigger. If we could achieve that we felt we could achieve anything. So here we are looking out over the next two decades and realizing there are hundreds of thousands of young adults, with a variety of serious health conditions whose lives could be better with adventure, and in the next two decades we’re determined to reach them all!

FD: On a more personal note, do you have any exciting adventures planned in the year ahead? What personal New Year’s resolutions do you have, if any?

BL: I’m always scheming up as many adventures as possible, perhaps to a fault. This year I’ll find myself backcountry skiing, heli skiing, backcountry flying, floating countless rivers, archery hunting, mountain biking, surfing and hopefully finally learning to kitesurf. So, without going into too many details, I suppose you could say the answer is yes to adventure! Regarding resolutions, I’m not generally great at keeping them, so I’ve shied away from making them. For me, the new year offers an opportunity to check in on my life – Am I living passionately? Am I working on things that get me excited? Am I making a positive impact in the world? And I nurturing myself and the friendships which nourish me? Am I adventuring? If the answer to any of these questions isn’t yes, then it’s an opportunity for adjustment.

FD: Do you have any advice to our community on setting adventure, nutrition, or mindfulness goals and resolutions in the new year? 

BL: From my own experience, I’ve found so much health, healing, connection and growth in prioritizing adventure in my life. This is where I learn about myself, find myself living in the present, and connect deeply with old and new friends. At the end of each year, as I take audit of the highlights, adventure always rises to the top, which says a lot. If my adventures are the most defining things I do each year, it would seem important to create space for more in the year to come. As such, I try hard to deliberately carve out space for, and plan, a few great adventures each year. Even if it’s just one, I strongly encourage everyone to get it on the calendar ASAP! January is the perfect time to do so.

Head to the Out Living It Festival for the ultimate 2020 Adventure!


Need a New Year’s adventure idea? Register today for the Out Living It Festival! The Out Living It Festival is First Descents’ very own multi-day, multi-sport mountain festival designed to celebrate the healing power of adventure and community! We couldn’t ring in 20 years without a massive Out Living It celebration, so on July 16-19, 2020 we’re gathering hundreds of supporters, alumni, and friends in Buena Vista, Colorado, for one epic weekend!

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