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The Far Out Ones: Angel Collinson

Story by Hadley Hammer

Angel Collinson grew up in the mountains, and has never left. From ski racing, to winning big mountain competitions, to opening and closing Teton Gravity Research films, you can tell she is at home when she is skiing. Last year, Angel changed her residency from Utah to Alaska. So, naturally, she threw a housewarming party for her TGR family and started the film season at her new home, with her brother John and good friend Sam Smoothy joining her. While most pros don't venture north until the springtime, TGR took advantage of Angel’s new backyard to get a jumpstart on the Alaska film season. I caught up with Angel to hear how the season went-how she felt returning to a full ski season after recovering from her injury, and what she wants to do next with her career. Be sure to check out her skiing in TGR’s ski and snowboard film Far Out, Presented by REI.

What was it like to film in your new home of Alaska, with your brother and Sam Smoothy?

It’s so cool to be able to call Alaska my new backyard. It’s massive, it’s wild. But it’s also where I cut my teeth in the filming world. You can spend a lifetime in the mountains here and even if you’re in them every day, you’re just scratching the surface. It was great to adventure out in the great white unknown with John and Sam. They are so goofy and funny and bring light to situations, and they are very mountain aware. They are the most solid dudes to be out in the mountains with.

It’s sort of like when you decide on a college and your parents come out to help you tour the campus.

It’s the first place I’ve ever moved to outside of Utah. There are a lot of things that Alaska has given me. That being said, this was a completely new take on what I’ve always known in filming. It’s still the same mountains, but they seem so different earlier in the season. The days are super short. Filming lines is difficult because you need light, and this early in the season the light is only briefly on them.

For Angel, the mountains are family.

You usually end your season in Alaska, what was it like to start your season up there?

It was so different than my normal springtime Alaskan experience! Mentally it was harder. Usually you spend your whole season working up to skiing those big lines-mentally and physically. I’m not sure I was mentally over my knee injury yet. So it was a lot right off the bat - dusting off the cobwebs while also dealing with residuals from the injuries. I think if I popped into those lines this year it would have been a different story-but last year I was just dealing with a lot of fear. It showed in my skiing. It was a process and I learned that we just can’t be on all the time. We can’t have banger years every year. You have to make peace with the whole process.

I know I can do better, but not at that time. Loving skiing and loving myself through the process even if it wasn’t the style I wanted to - that became the challenge. Of course I wanted to be on top of the world skiing my best at my new home mountain. It didn’t work out that way, but that’s totally okay.

There are so many things to unpack from that. To start, let's talk about fear, especially since your injury.

It’s a tough one. You spend your whole career building your confidence. And so it’s weird to stand on top of something, and you’re looking down at the line knowing it’s totally within your ability but all of a sudden you’re terrified of it. You don’t know if you could or should do it. So I just had to ski slow, slow everything down. I had to ski easier lines with lower consequences and safer options. I dialed it all back. It’s how I dealt with it. It’s when having a supportive team is so important. People that are encouraging and respect your process. Having Sam and John was amazing.

I used a lot of visualization. I imagined skiing the lines. I imagined what it would feel like to have that confidence.

Whether its shredding big Alaskan lines, or simply hanging out with friends on top of mountains, it's all smiles for Angel.

Eventually when I was in Albania I finally broke through. I felt that confidence. But up until then, the whole season I was feeling a lack of confidence, feeling unsure. I had kinda thought I was over those mental hurdles at the start of the season, but I really wasn’t until the end.

Is some of that fear getting injured again, or is it pressure to perform - to be back at the high level where you were and not knowing if you would be?

Yeah it’s a bit of both. For me, I wasn’t super worried about getting hurt again, I think because my injury was pretty mellow. It was much more of a realization that you’re not invisible. You realize how gnarly it is what we do. How easily something can change. You definitely question yourself a little more. But when you’re in the big terrain, it’s hard to question yourself. When you’re in big terrain, you need that confidence.

When I got hurt, I was skiing the best I had in my life, and I was expecting to work through stuff for a bit and then boom be right back there, and it just doesn’t work like that, at least not for me. There’s definitely that pressure that I put on myself and figuring out what I could ski- not what I could in the past, but what I could ski in the present.

Does pressure for you come internally or externally?

Mostly from the inside. Probably 90% inside, and 10% what people think of me.

You’ve been doing this for long, and you're such a multifaceted person with so many interests outside of skiing. How do you keep the passion for skiing?

Well, the injury really helped with that. It’s the classic “when something gets taken away from you, you realize how much you want it” story.

It’s so interesting when what you love becomes your work. I spend most of my days standing around, or making one turn. You’ll spend a whole day and maybe ski two lines. When you become a professional skier you give up a lot of quality ski time. So it’s been hard to find the joy when you’re “working”. So I’ve been trying to find a balance. I’ll never be the type of person who dreams about skiing - I envy those people. But that’s okay and doesn’t mean I don’t love it.

I've found that I don’t usually ski much in the summer and fall. I take those times to rebalance. I like to unplug whether I’m in the desert, or now Hawaii. Full technology detoxes that help me decide what I want.

And in the winter, I make sure to have enough time to freeski in my favorite ways. I love resort shredding. I try to avoid the back-to-back obligations and be better about my scheduling. I’m trying to nurture my love for skiing. And the injury helped me appreciate my love.

It takes a certain mindset to be able to shred lines like this, and Angel possesses it.

Your latest instagram post talked about resistance. Talk to me about that.

I’ve always been into personal growth. I’m always taking a class online or reading a book, something that’s a project towards self improvement.

This summer, I’ve been taking this Ayurvedic class. And a lot of it is about creating better habits. And the whole thing about habits is they are automatic. So in order to make good habits, you have to start super easy. I’ve been realizing lately as I try to make better habits in order to be the kind of person I want to be, that I’m not doing the meaningful work I wanted to with my ski career.

So I’ve been really conscious of the habits I create. 

And I realize I get in my own way and procrastinate and don’t do what I want to do. It makes me feel like a failure. And it’s this self fulfilling prophecy-the harder I try to improve my habits, the more resistance I would feel. I put so much thought in effort in what we want, but then I stop myself, I run into a brick wall of myself.

So the post came from that. For example, a big resistance I have is posting on social media. I’ve had it since the beginning. I went deep into trying to figure out why. So I figured I’d just post about it. It was an authentic way of me posting what I wanted to post about.

Well I have to comment on this, more as a friend and less as an interviewer: do you ever think that you’re good enough as you are right now? Maybe your focus on growth is working in an opposite way - who you are as a person is good, self improvement is one thing, but also self love of who you are is enough?

Right, the funny thing about that is I bet if I were to truly embrace that, that I would have some major breakthroughs and have no resistance to the changes I want to make. You can only push so hard against resistance. You kinda hit the nail on the head on where I’m at.

I was having this conversation with Elena Hight this week. We were talking about how people get individual satisfaction. And perhaps right now what I’m doing is touching the lives of way more people than I actually feel like it is. But sometimes I think I would get more fulfillment if I dropped everything and worked in the Peace Corps and directly impacted the lives of much fewer people. And maybe I’d be making less of a difference in the world than I currently am but I would feel it more. I don’t always feel like the life I live is inspiring others - I don’t know if what I’m doing is enough for me to think of myself as inspiring. It turns into an interesting question: what is better for me and what is better for the world?

There’s this awesome quote from Wendell Berry, “There can be no such thing as a ‘global village.’ No matter how much one may love the world as a whole, one can live fully in it only by living responsibly in some small part of it. Where we live and how we live there define the terms of our relationship to the world and to humanity. One can become whole only by the responsible acceptance of one's partiality.” I think what he is saying is you can’t affect change on a big scale, it has to be on a neighborhood scale. I think it’s because of how we feel, or rather don’t feel, the consequences to our actions these days. Everything is so big. You can see it in how the world is changing. For example if you litter, or use a lot of plastics, you don’t feel the direct impact of these choices. So we are all creating these morals, passed down by our families or communities, but we have no way of testing if they are just and right, because the feedback loop is too big. It takes too long. We are than eternally confused by our own actions. So I think your struggle is very commonplace, for not just pro skiers, but all humans.

Exactly. Because at some point you have to get personal gratification from the work you do. And I don’t mean this in a bad way, but I just dont think what I’m doing fuels my ego. It warms my heart to hear parents talk about how my skiing changes their kids life, but it’s not my day-to-day life so it fuels all these questions.

I do know that I want to still film and I really want to do more trips with women.

Well then what does next season look like for you, will there be a change?

I don’t know. I think based off what we were talking about, I want to be more intentional with my career, more directive. Sometimes I think we push so hard for what we want, and in the moment you’re pushing, and only with perspective over time do you realize that things work out in the timing that they should. I think before we make our big breakthroughs we encounter our greatest resistance. So I’m in a push-pull place. I want to be more in the driver seat, but I’m also so thankful for all the experiences that are put in front of me.

Is that a result of filming a lot with women this year? What makes it special?

It was very similar to the experience when you and I filmed together! It’s just so much goofier! And not in a way that disrespects the risks or brushes off the consequences. But it’s silly around the edges. And it’s not that men are too serious necessarily, it’s just that they are able to be more single-minded. I think women think about a lot at once. I think we are more conscious of how everyone is doing. I think it’s easier for the guys to just be focused on just their lines. And we get there too, just in a different process. We have evolved to take care of others. And so when you have a bunch of women doing that for each other it’s just so ideal. There’s a great play of give and take. Women are just sillier. Maybe it’s the way we deal with fear. It was so awesome and I just laughed so hard.

And I don’t have a desire to be on trips with all women. Just to be on trips that are balanced. It wasn’t just all girls on these trips, the filmers and guides were men. And it was awesome. There was great communication. There was silliness. Great group energy. I look forward to more of that!