Seek­ing steeps and her­self

Collinson seeks steeps, & her­self

Adventure - - #209 - Words: P.M. Fad­den - Im­ages: Nic Al­gere/Red Bull

The moun­tains are call­ing.

For those who heed the ad­dress, their siren beck­on­ing of wild to­pog­ra­phy glossed with gla­cial ice sel­dom stops but rather, pro­vides sound­track for The Search. Its lure en­snares pro­fes­sional ath­letes, film­mak­ers, and ski fans alike; fu­el­ing, some­what, a mod­ern and re­lent­less global me­dia process that churns lu­cra­tive in­dus­try from sim­ple words like Epic or Cool but also, re­fresh­ingly, ex­em­pli­fies that sans dol­lars and cents, it’s all just a fall for physics.

It’s an early morn­ing at ski-town Gird­wood, Alaska, and An­gel Collinson is set­tling in, over steam­ing cof­fee, to con­tem­plate the work-play par­lay of slid­ing down­hill. At twenty-seven, she is softly spo­ken, light of touch and, as­suredly, one hell-of-a quiet on snow. The Utah na­tive is the 2010 Subaru Free­sk­ing World Cham­pion, the first fe­male to ap­pear in a TGR film fi­nale, re­cip­i­ent of Pow­der Mag­a­zine’s ‘Best Line’ 2015, and mem­ber of The North Face Global Team yet her em­pha­sis, it seems, is other than ac­claim. An­gel’s is a life in pur­suit of lib­erty.

“Get fired-up about be­ing out in the world; that fore­most,” An­gel casts her eyes across a map hung upon a nearby wall. “It’s ex­cit­ing to ex­pe­ri­ence peo­ple, na­ture and to ex­plore the in­ter­nal self.”

That en­thu­si­asm for “the ex­pe­ri­ence” blends well with the Alask-ana of her home.

“It’s ex­pe­ri­ences that lead to char­ac­ter,” said Great Land ski guide Jeff Hoke, An­gel’s part­ner and fif­teen-sea­son vet­eran with South­cen­tral heli-ski main­stay, Chugach Pow­der Guides. “This hap­pens by get­ting out in the el­e­ments.”

To Jeff, grace­ful flu­id­ity, power, and self­ex­pres­sion are el­e­ments to be val­ued, both in the in­di­vid­ual as well as skier, and all the bet­ter if they en­joy the jour­ney.

An­gel’s ap­proach seems to em­u­late this view as she con­cedes friends and POW days to surely stoke her out, but it’s be­ing with one’s own self—a sense of au­ton­omy—that lands An­gel in her most happy place.

Born to a ski fam­ily and raised in binders, An­gel’s early race fo­cus may have changed, but the Snow­bird lo­cal has known lit­tle other than a life aimed down­hill. In fact, she has no mem­ory of a time prior to ski­ing.

This is owed, in part, to Fam­ily Collinson who from the start placed first a be­lief in its brood, what­ever the pur­suit. For An­gel’s Mother, Deb, it is that be­lief, and sus­tain­ment of parental fear, that in­cre­men­tally yet crit­i­cally aids the child in ex­pe­ri­enc­ing life to the fullest.

But that’s not to say that it hasn’t been hard. Mother Collinson con­fides a ne­ces­sity for con­stant re­train­ing of the parental in­stinct. Deb’s mantra has been, “An­gel’s got it,” but that doesn’t come eas­ily in the face of au­tumns and win­ters gone to equip­ment, train­ing, well-bal­anced school­ing, and lit­tle time to de­velop al­ter­nate in­ter­ests. An­gel, par­tic­u­larly, re­calls child­hood ea­ger­ness for en­vi­ron­men­tal law, an early en­thu­si­asm she in­fused into ini­tial years at univer­sity. Ski­ing, how­ever, al­ways took prece­dence.

Yet, for the Collinsons, the re­sults are hard to con­test. The fam­ily in­cludes two pro­fes­sional skiers, and ex­pe­ri­ence enough to ar­guably fill four life­times.

On the road nearly 300 days an­nu­ally, An­gel is paid a salary by each of her spon­sors, fa­cil­i­tat­ing both travel as well as ex­pe­ri­ence so long as it builds her ca­reer and up­holds the brand of her spon­sors. In turn, those ben­e­fi­cia­ries of An­gel’s ideas and like­ness ex­pect a stip­u­lated num­ber of days that the ath­lete be at their dis­posal for photo shoots, speak­ing en­gage­ments, cor­po­rate events and the like.

In her case, film ed­its do not equate to pay, rather An­gel uti­lizes travel monies to cover trip costs for the movies.

Ac­cord­ing to her, this sys­tem holds true for the ma­jor­ity of ski-ath­letes; bud­gets pay for the trips while pocket money comes from spon­sors, and the in­di­vid­ual re­tains re­spon­si­bil­ity for per­sonal brand­ing and busi­ness, i.e. - so­cial me­dia, mar­ket­ing, com­mu­ni­ca­tions, cal­en­dar, or fi­nances. It’s a path An­gle had never pre­vi­ously imag­ined to pur­sue, be­ing more apt to ex­plain her cur­rent ca­reer as an or­ganic growth process. But from the mo­ment she first viewed Sage Cat­tabriga-Alosa’s seg­ment in Tan­ger­ine Dream, An­gel knew a deep de­sire to ski the steep and deep.

To ski at the so-called ex­treme level, An­gel knows, is an op­por­tu­nity de­fined by fi­nite mea­sures. And while there may be stored fa­mil­ial hopes for quiet Sun­days and din­ners at Granny Deb’s, prac­ti­cal­ity rightly spec­u­lates the phys­i­cal abil­ity of to­day is un­likely to out­live to­mor­row.

“The pri­or­i­tiz­ing is a chal­lenge,” An­gel’s views here are com­monly shared, and weighed care­fully.

Jeff too speaks of chal­lenges. With speci­ficity to ski­ing and its moun­tain arena, the ski guide’s views re­flect An­gel’s thoughts on bal­anc­ing the same with life be­yond. It’s a con­stant he says, re­gard­less of ex­pe­ri­ence. Ac­cord­ing to Jeff, the moun­tain’s chal­lenges are as end­less as the les­sons, cit­ing, an in­di­vid­ual must ac­cept, per­son­ally, that there are al­ways set­backs and to learn with hu­mil­ity while along the way.

For An­gel, the hinge point is to en­joy a pro­fes­sion while still carv­ing time-chunks for one’s self. Aside from a flur­ried jug­gle of so­cial and all-hal­lowed “down” times, An­gel evinces de­sire to also pur­sue… some­thing else. Fields the likes of en­vi­ron­ment study, vis­ual arts or mu­sic linger at the hori­zon of her in­ter­est but more, she em­pha­sizes a greater con­vic­tion for close study of cul­tural ex­tinc­tion. For An­gel, any loss of cul­ture equates to crit­i­cal re­duc­tion of mankind’s abil­ity to con­nect, glob­ally, with the world at large. It’s a topic she feels strongly about, but how to bridge that fo­cus with the wham-bam world of pro­fes­sional ski­ing?

Mean­while, a bearded be­he­moth with gnarled hands and fish­er­man’s garb has lum­bered through the cafe door. As he does so, this Bush­man-meets-Yeti must make way for an ex­it­ing pixie with moon­stone on her fin­gers and leop­ard print pants; both greet An­gel with the warmth of an in­ti­mate friend. She is a World Cham­pion yet, to her, in­ter-per­sonal ex­change is the prize to value above all. An­gel de­scribes it as a key to ex­pand­ing cul­tures and lifestyle sys­tems, some­thing that en­ables a multi-lat­eral re­spect as well as pa­tience, in­te­gral to achiev­ing per­sonal or pro­fes­sional growth.

She is im­pas­sioned to seek co­he­sion be­tween a ski-heavy lifestyle and be­yond snow is­sues such as rais­ing aware­ness for im­por­tance of main­tain­ing cul­tural di­ver­sity or re­tain­ing in­di­vid­u­al­ity de­spite glob­al­iza­tion.

An­gel shifts on the cush­ioned seat while fram­ing her thoughts. For her, it’s about ex­plor­ing the un­known that links her cares with her ca­reer. Most re­cently, with a group called Cit­i­zen’s Cli­mate Lobby, she has re­turned from Wash­ing­ton DC hav­ing strived to raise aware­ness re­gard­ing cli­mate change, an is­sue that has been a “slap in the face” for the ski in­dus­try. There An­gel’s work de­tailed con­fer­enc­ing, ed­u­ca­tional lec­tures, panels, lob­by­ing and meet­ings on DC’s Cap­i­tal Hill. End re­sult: push for leg­is­la­tion ex­plor­ing price-point­ing car­bon; a fee and div­i­dend av­enue that could be ar­gued to change the face of the planet for the bet­ter.

Nat­u­rally it be­gins with the self. When asked to wish­fully change a sin­gle el­e­ment to the snow in­dus­try so cen­tral to her life the ski pro con­fi­dently replied, “That peo­ple take it less se­ri­ously.”

“It’s a bit like swim­ming for a buoy in the ocean,” An­gel ex­plained. “The harder you swim, the more your own rip­ples push away what you want.” Though eas­ier said than done, it’s when An­gel let’s go, flows with an ex­pe­ri­ence, that she feels at her best.

In her much lauded ca­reer, the AK trans­plant has come to know well many tal­ented peer ath­letes, of whom the most suc­cess­ful sim­ply seek for sake of the search, and hope­fully with a light heart.

She sup­poses a honed in­tu­ition, with the in­ter­nal quiet to hear it, opens op­por­tu­nity. Such mo­ments of po­ten­tial may not fit “the plan” but might un­lock cir­cum­stances that not only were un­re­al­ized pre­vi­ously but per­haps prove even bet­ter than the orig­i­nal vi­sion.

An­gel’s next words seem se­lected for univer­sal ap­pli­ca­tion. “Do what you like,” she said. “If you feel that it’s right.”

Her ami­able out­look echoes, in part, An­gel’s per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence. Though fas­ci­nated from an early age by the Great Land and its cul­ture, it was ro­mance (with Jeff) and prom­ise of wild soli­tude which would lure An­gel to her cur­rent home at Gird­wood. There, she’s found foot­ing in a thriv­ing pseudo-bo­hemia, pop­u­lated by like-in­ter­ested peo­ple, and boast­ing near un­par­al­leled ac­cess to un­tamed na­ture.

Of her prior res­i­den­tial set­tings, An­gel sensed a sort of rut; a sep­a­ra­tion of ski and per­sonal life. That state of seg­re­ga­tion re­mained un­til, un­ex­pect­edly, a “right path” opened, en­cour­ag­ing her to the Forty-Ninth State and, ul­ti­mately to im­merse in a scene where per­sonal plea­sures blend hap­pily with her work.

“In many ways, Alaska is the ul­ti­mate in big moun­tain ski­ing,” An­gel re­it­er­ates a view held, largely, the by main of the ski-world. “Gird­wood, specif­i­cally, holds a lot of el­e­ments that I want in my life.”

But she didn’t come here to stake a claim.

With undimmed love of travel, An­gel speaks with awe about world fa­mous ski lo­cales Cha­monix, Revel­stoke, Bar­riloche and (nat­u­rally) her alma mater at Snow­bird/Alta, but the val­ley she cur­rently calls ‘home’ holds spe­cial sway.

Of course her state of res­i­dence, much like her sched­ule, has a lot go­ing on, yet An­gel feels she’s get­ting bet­ter at mak­ing time for the small things, the mo­ments that make it all worth­while. Ac­cord­ing to TGR’s line-chas­ing Ti­gress (An­gel’s quirky and now fa­mous trade­mark) AK, like ev­ery­day life, asks that the turns be earned; in short: re­main grounded, and let the jour­ney out­shine any re­ward.

"When asked to wish­fully change a sin­gle el­e­ment to the snow in­dus­try so cen­tral to her life the ski PRO CON­FI­DENTLY replied, “That peo­ple take it less se­ri­ously.” "

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