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After Season Ending Injury, 2-Time “Female Skier of the Year” Returns

Angel getting buried at Snowbird, a few weeks after returning to the mountains after her ACL surgery last April. Photo courtesy of Angel Collinson.

If there was ever an ideal time to get injured, Angel Collinson pretty much nailed it. The pro skier had never been injured before – never even broken a bone – before tearing her ACL while filming with TGR in Alaska last April. Ski season was winding down anyway, and despite the pain and difficulties that come with any serious injury, Angel, the ever-optimist, was able to find the silver linings throughout her recovery.

Nine months after her surgery, Angel is back, with skis under her feet and chasing pow in Alaska no less. I hopped on the phone with her last week in between storms to talk about what happened on that line, her road to recovery in Hawaii, and most importantly, how it feels to be back in the mountains.

JK: I’ve seen the segment in Tight Loose, but from your perspective, what happened on that line?

AC: It was really hard to see the bergschrund. It had these big steps, like a giant staircase. Looking back on it, it was really hard to see from the top and it was hard to see from the bottom. And so I basically came in with a lot of heat and had to lean back to skip over these giant stairs.

When I came into the soft snow I was a little bit off center and my skis crossed over to the side and I started cartwheeling and when I cartwheeled my skis dug into the snow and my body kept going.

JK: Ouch. So after your surgery, you went to Hawaii for recovery?

AC: After the summer, I wasn’t supposed to ski yet and I was running a little behind where I wanted to be on my rehab because of traveling for a TV show and sponsors. Rehab is pretty challenging when you’re traveling all the time. It’s hard to stick to a good program.

So I isolated myself away from snow in a wonderful tropical location and just worked my ass off. I was in the gym 6 to 7 hours pretty much every day, 6 days a week about, and I made up a bunch of ground. I got a lot stronger and felt a lot more physically ready to start getting back on snow.

Fellow Red Bull athlete Michelle Parker and Angel enjoying an ice bath during "kneehab" aka Xena Warrior Princess training in Haiku-Pauwela, HI. Photo courtesy of Michelle Parker.

I got cleared to ski the first week of January so I’m just easing myself back in and allowing myself to have some ski vacations and just have fun with it instead of trying to rush into filming. It’s fun to take ski vacations!

JK: What was it like the first day you got back out there?

AC: It was super exciting. I had never been so excited to ski drills and go off-piste. It was a really big deal. I was like, “Woah, I think I’m ready to go off the groomers now!” I definitely have a renewed appreciation for skiing, because since it's become my job it's definitely become more of a task to make it fun.

"This is my: 'just skied my first off-piste run!!!' face. Knee feels awesome- all you injured folks out there- keep up the hard work! It pays off and feels so much sweeter than before. New appreciation for it all, and grateful for all I've learned along the way." - @angelcollinson via Instagram.

JK: Was that the longest you had ever not skied in a while?

AC: Yeah, I guess I do ski every summer even up at Hood. Maybe that was the longest I’ve not skied since I was like 10 or 12. But it was more like being able to ski, not necessarily my time away from it that made me so excited to get back out there.

JK: Are you back to 100 percent, or would you say you’re still in recovery?

AC: Part of it is the mental confidence that takes the longest to come back. But obviously there are the tweaks and strains of having long sticks under your feet. My knee gets pretty sore still, so it's a process. I can’t really shred all day yet.

Angel returns to shredding pow at Alyeska Resort in Girdwood, AK last week. Photo by Ralph Kristopher.

JK: What are you looking forward to most this season?

AC: I’ve just been shredding pow! I’ve been catching good storms. I had to do a photoshoot with Volkl right off the bat, which was challenging, but I am looking forward to getting my mental confidence back. And it’s been fun! I’m like, “Hmm, how’s the drop onto the hard pack going to go?” and it's been good to be like, “OH, that felt awesome.”

JK: What have you learned from your injury and recovery?

AC: Oh man, so much. One of my biggest takeaways – for anyone who is injured – is that you learn a lot about yourself. You’re forced to work on patience, which is really challenging for pretty much everybody. I learned how to take care of myself better and be kinder to myself in the patient process, which isn’t easy. It’s easy to get down and not see the changes on a day-to-day basis.

I’ve always felt this, but the biggest thing I’ve learned is that the most challenging situations in life often bring you your biggest gifts and make you a better person. I wouldn’t have gone to Hawaii. I’ve made really amazing new friendships. It’s been a really beautiful process, even though on the outside it seems like it would have sucked. There are always silver linings.

JK: Besides rehab, what type of things were you able to make time for?

AC: Well, I wanted to do more – I had these lofty goals that I was going to be super creative which I still did. I went to a singing retreat with Michelle Parker and it was fun to take the time to dive into things that I wouldn’t normally have time to do otherwise. I think everyone enjoys tapping into our creative sides and we don’t always do when were outside every day.

That’s been my advice to people who reach out for tips. Make a list of all the things that you want to do that you haven’t had time for and do them!

JK: Do you think the injury has changed you as a skier?

AC: Yes, in the sense that I think I appreciate it more. But I don’t think it will change how I look at the mountains or my risk management. I think my risk management has always been pretty good, which is why this was my first injury. But, you know, accidents happen, and I don’t think that will change my next line selection. The risk is always there and, fortunately, I didn’t get hurt because of poor decision making. I think that if I had made a bad call, maybe it would force me to look at things differently, but that wasn’t the case and I’m thankful for that because I probably would be beating myself up more in the process.

Superwoman Angel taking it that Alaskan goodness in on top of the Neacola's in Tight Loose.

JK: What do you have in store for the next couple of months?

AC: I’m enjoying this slow pace and getting back into it. I’ve been leaving my plate pretty clear so that I can enjoy the process and not feel press or rushed. It then takes the fun out of it if I’m like, “Oh my god, I have to be ready for this trip in time.” I’ve been taking a laid back approach and it has been really helpful in fostering my love for skiing.

It’s getting closer every day, but I don’t want to film until I’m almost 100 percent. I feel like at the end of this month I’ll be ready but I haven’t committed to any trips. I will be going back to Alaska with TGR this year, so that’s the only thing for sure. 

From The Column: Women in the Mountains

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