Angel Collinson on 1000ft falls, knee injuries and ski-mad families

Far more thoughtful than most in the freeride game, the Snowbird local chats to Jonny Richards about falling down an Alaskan spine, being frog-marched up Colorado 14ers aged six by her ski patroller dad, and why sometimes, just sometimes, time away from skiing is no bad thing

Jonny Richards: How is Hawaii? And how is the knee?

Angel Collinson: Actually both are pretty good. In fact Hawaii is amazing! It’s my first time here, and I’m not missing the mountains as I now love the ocean so much. It’s the best place for spending time for rehab (after a torn ACL in April 2016 filming with Teton Gravity Research in Alaska).

Angel rips it up at Revelstoke | Antoniuk

JR: So you’re not desperate to get back home to Utah?

AC: Not now I’ve been given the all clear to ski again! My knee is feeling great; not 100% but nearly there. So soon I’ll be back for a couple of days at home in Snowbird then up to Retallack for a Völkl shoot.

JR: BC huge pillows, cat access and right back on the serious stuff then?

AC: I suppose so; but I have a lot of friends who’ll be there and looking out for me.

JR: There’s never a ‘good’ time to get injured, but was it useful to have a break from skiing? It all happened so fast. You won the Freeskiing World Tour at the first attempt, were the first woman to film with TGR, grabbed the all-important opening sequence to Almost Ablaze, were the first female to win Powder’s line of the year, became Freeskier skier of the year…

AC: I really needed the down time. The pressure is a big thing. It can get to you. I feel everyone with injuries gains a lot. That’s the silver lining everyone told me about. You’d never choose to have these things happen, but there is some good to it.

JR: I like your quote about some days wanting to be the 16-year-old nobody with headphones on who talks to no-one, and just laps the tram at Snowbird. Will sponsors let you do this, and be as quiet and non pushy as you are on social media? Or is it a constant battle?

AC: I’m grateful, don’t get me wrong – but the social media side is a lot to do with how someone is, and who they are.
I’d be happy being a barista no-one noticed, and just being able to ski every day. I’d be stoked on that.

JR: Is there more pressure every season to interact and gain Twitter and Instagram followers?

AC: It’s challenging. But, above all, people crave authenticity and real people. Not glorified, but still inspirational and portraying what is real. If a sponsor wants that, I can understand it.

JR: Your brother Johnny has said skiing should always be fun. Is that really possible as a pro?

AC: It is for John. He’s always amped, staying out for long days, having lots of fun. For me when skiing became my job it changed. I started to get some other hobbies to balance what I’d lost… I’m a dabbler – not super great at anything, but I’m painting and wanting to learn the banjo, which I brought to Hawaii. I’ve not picked it up yet!

| Bryan Ralph/Red Bull Content Pool

JR: I had many laughs researching your amazing/crackpot family. Home-schooled in winter so you could ski every day, summers with no home, instead living out of a 1979 Ford van, photos of you and your brother not even knee high but roped up on some crazy glacier. Does that help you now when you need to do absurd things like winter camp for 20 days in a remote Alaskan range?

AC: Yes. We spent a lot of time in the mountains. I was alone in the mountains a lot more than I was around people. It taught us to be uncomfortable and know that’s OK.

JR: What was your most uncomfortable experience?

AC: Any time when you are sick near the end of a trip or expedition. Everything is so much harder as everyone is so tired. My first winter camping experience was Alaska and Denali. It was –40° at night, I’d not camped in conditions like that before. I was offered it super last minute, so didn’t really have the preparation time (mentally or physically), then got sick.

Having frozen ski boots the whole time, not being able to sleep without multiple hot water bottles, and the weather being so cold if you put a can of beer outside the tent it would just blow up and explode… You just have to accept the hard times.

JR: When you were doing all these crazy things (brother Johnny went on to be the youngest person to climb Everest) did you ever think you’d like a more normal life?

AC: That was just the way life was for us; it was our life. For sure, lots of times I’d rather have been at pool parties or on a trampoline, rather than being woken up at 4am, given a rotten banana and told to hit the trail. In that moment it’s not what I would have chosen. But as adults we’ve had the pay off. It’s hard to understand when you’re so young that what sucks now will get better when you start walking or whatever, but I’m glad dad pushed us. Most parents are frightened of doing that.

JR: Last winter looked pretty frightening with that 1000ft fall in the Neacola mountains (south-west of Anchorage). Could a standard-Joe, skilled, experienced skier ever conquer a line like that without a similar nightmare?

AC: (Long pause.) Alaska is definitely possible, as the terrain is not all like the footage you see. But you do need to be an expert. And having a racing background (Angel started at eight and quit when, against expectation, she missed a place on the US team in her late teens) really does help in terms of strength and technique. Especially if you are skiing spines. This is as challenging as it gets. It’s not only the steepness, but also the sluff management.

JR: Is it true you were on a full academic scholarship at university and only entered a big mountain competition as your brother John nagged you to?

AC: Yes, that right, it’s all down to him.

JR: Was it hard for him – also an aspiring big mountain pro skier himself – when you suddenly blew up and became huge almost as soon as you began?

AC: The success was hard, but he’s always been so supportive. Genuinely happy. He’s been awesome, and now he’s doing
really well (winning Powder awards and being all over this year’s The North Face snow campaign).

JR: I read that to get to the first event (a Freeskiing World Tour round in Revelstoke) you had to drive 14 hours straight, by yourself, in a two-wheel-drive car; then sleep on the hotel room floor of another competitor you barely knew to save money… Why do it?

AC: I’m not sure I know. It’s a drive to be the best I can be. Not to be the best; I don’t care about being the best on the mountain. It’s just about me. The best sister, the best I can be in everything.

JR: Is there an ultimate ski challenge for you? Is there anything really stellar left that has not been done?

AC: There’s always new and different. That’s what humanity is like. We always see something. Then there’s the stoke to get it done. There’s nothing obvious for me… at the moment!

JR: I loved the Sam Smoothy North Korea thing (a short film that’s been viewed more than 250,000 times). It’s wonderful and very, very funny. Maybe this could be the challenge, certainly in terms of filming…

AC: I really enjoyed that too, and found it super interesting. That’s Sam all over. Very funny. Skiing is an exploration
of self, and it’s not just about different terrain but other cultures too.

Angel: freeskiing legend and wannabe banjo player | antoniuk

JR: Is there a totally out-there place where you’d like to do something similar?

AC: Mmm, that’s hard, as most have been done. India probably, as the culture is so drastically different and challenging. I’ve never been to Gulmarg. Kosovo, two winters ago, with my brother and TGR, was the closest I got to crazy; definitely on the outside of normal.

JR: We are most definitely normal. Please make us better skiers… with one single piece of advice.

AC: Take things incrementally. One step at a time. Not every challenge has to be achieved with a huge jump. Or stretch.
Be patient, give yourself time, enjoy your skiing and the breakthroughs will come naturally, often when you least
expect them. 

Angel Collinson is sponsored by The North Face, Völkl, Red Bull and more.