When reached by phone on a recent Tuesday afternoon, Angel Collinson was busy packing her things. Not because she was heading out on another heli trip to Alaska (more on that in a minute), but because this spring her father, Jim, resigned his snow-safety position at Snowbird after more than three decades working at the resort. His decision left the Collinson clan ineligible for employee housing at Snowbird's base, which, for Angel and her brother John, meant moving out of the only home they'd ever known. "These are identity changes for us," Angel said.
That change wasn't the only recent shift for Collinson. After dominating the big-mountain competition circuit during her young career, the two-time defending Subaru Freeskiing World Tour champ finished just shy of a three-peat this winter, taking second to Crystal Wright (Collinson also placed second in the Swatch Freeride World Tour standings to Christine Hargin). She was still happy with her results, but even happier to realize a dream she's pursued since childhood: filming with one of the industry's heavyweight companies. Collinson, 21, took two trips to Alaska with Teton Gravity Research this season, including a spring journey to the Knik Glacier with Seth Morrison, Sage Cattabriga-Alosa and Dana Flahr. On the heels of that experience, Collinson explained why future seasons will include more filming and less competing; why numbers didn't define her winter; and why skiing more often at Alta doesn't make her a traitor.
This winter was interesting because even though my results weren't as good, I think I skied better than I ever have. The women's field has really stepped it up. There was less crashing, more good skiing and more stomping. It's easy to look at the numbers and outcomes and say, "Oh, I had a bad season." But you have to remember how it went day by day.
I was committed to a full comp season because I hadn't heard from any film companies, but then out of the blue I got offered a trip to Haines with TGR. It was too short to get much done; we had bad weather and all the cards didn't fall into place, but it set me up so they could see my skiing and spend time with me as a person.
Then in March, I had just gotten done with the Snowbird competition and I was about to head to Verbier -- I was flying out that night. It was my only big, resort powder day all season, and as I was waiting in the tram line, I got a call from [TGR supervising producer] Greg Epstein, and he offered me a spot on the Knik Glacier trip. I felt like someone had made some kind of mistake, like, "Wait a second. He's offering me a trip with Seth Morrison, Sage and Dana, and I'm the only girl?" It made my winter.
I felt like someone made a mistake, like, 'Wait a second. He's offering me a trip with Seth Morrison, Sage Cattabriga-Alosa and Dana Flahr, and I'm the only girl?' It made my winter.
I get up there, and I'm rooming with Sage and he's just blasting awesome music the whole time. The skiing we did, even though I was with these veterans who've been doing it almost as long as I've been skiing, they were so patient, and they were very kind.
Actually, the snow wasn't that great. When I got up there it got really warm, and all of a sudden all these lines that Sage had been skiing -- just super epic lines that no one had skied before -- we could fly by them and stand at the bottom and look at them, but they were out. So we just played the AK game of taking what you have and working with it, but we didn't really fire it up too hard.
I picked those guys' brains on a lot of questions that would come up. Whether it was about bergschrunds, or terrain traps -- because sometimes I'd look at a line and think it was totally doable, but I'm not looking 1,000 feet below and realizing there's something dangerous down there.
I also realized I have a lot to learn and change in my skiing, going from a comp skier to a film skier. Like the way you slash turns over cliffs -- you can make a turn five feet more to the right, and it'll make or break your shot. Either it throws a ton of slough over the cliff, or it's just another turn. It's very precise.
I think I'll start to schedule future seasons more around film trips. If I do compete, it'll be every once in a while, where I can throw 360s and backflips and stomp way bigger airs than what's normal right now. Kind of change the game that way. Girls can totally ski like that, but you have to overcome your fear and you have to take time to learn how to do it and be comfortable.
It's really interesting for me when I start looking at the skiers we've been losing [including Collinson's boyfriend, pro skier Ryan Hawks, who died in March 2011]. A lot of them have been really influential, with bright hearts, and they've touched a lot of people. I don't know what it means or how to take that, but I feel like the people in the ski community have taken to heart the way they want to live, because of the people we've lost. It's easy to get disheartened and sad -- I think there's always time for that -- but it's also a time to grow.
If I'm in town next winter, I'll probably be splitting my time more evenly between Alta and Snowbird, because I won't be living right at Snowbird. Some people think of that as treason, but it's not. It's just one of those curveballs life throws at you. Snowbird has always been my home.