Seeking steeps and herself
Collinson seeks steeps, & herself
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.” "