Last year had Angel Collinson always on the move. To be one of the hardest-charging big mountain skiers in the industry takes tenacity, and she’s got no shortage of it. But after winning the prestigious 2018 Powder Reader’s Poll, landing a cover of Ski Journal, and filming one heavy-hitting segment after the next, Angel had a full heart but empty gas tank. It was time to recharge. Turning to her best source of medicine, skiing, Angel went back to where it all began, Snowbird Ski Resort. This childhood home and playground was now her refuge. And lucky for her, Utah was experiencing one of the best winters on the record. Those first few months of winter had her giggling through waist-deep fields of pow. It was a change of pace from her previous seasons, and it reminded her of what matters most at the end of the day: having fun.
Keeping this in mind as she headed up to Palmer, Alaska to join TGR for a heli-skiing mission, Angel brought the stoke. Already notorious for the wig collection that travels with her, she decided to leave the box at home and spice things up with a whole new set of pranks. Her enthusiasm was matched by an eager crew: Nick McNutt, Elyse Saugstad, and Griffin Post. Together they ticked off burly lines and leaned on each other when she and Elyse took serious crashes. Both abruptly ended their trips early when things went wrong on their lines. The crashes left Angel with a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus damage, meanwhile, Elyse escaped surgery with no structural damage done to her knee—just some serious bruising and swelling. We caught up with Angel to learn more about her winter sabbatical, Palmer, and how the recovery has been going for her knee:
What was your mindset this past winter after such a big 2018 season?
Angel: I went into last year in a pretty different mentality and I was psyched on my season before. With that being said, I was filming a lot. Coming into this new year I wanted to focus on making skiing fun. Or, as having as much fun as possible with my season. So I didn’t film until Alaska. Up until then I just shredded at Snowbird resort and skied a lot of pow.
Filming is pretty demanding, did you feel like you were juggling a lot last year?
Angel: Last year was full-on. I was filming pretty much every week.
When you did this refresh, you focused on just resort skiing?
Angel: No I also went to Peru. It was actually summertime down there because I went in January for three weeks. It was amazing! I’ve never actually traveled without ski gear until then. Honestly, it was a way different winter for me which was really awesome.
Well, and Utah had one of the most epic winters of all time. How was that?
Angel: I had some of the best days of my life last year and that really says something because I basically skied at Snowbird every day of my childhood. I think it’s important to remember why we do the things we do. Hopefully, when you’re doing a job—like being a professional athlete—you’re doing it because you love it. Sometimes you can get caught up in the hustle and bustle. For me, I find it extremely important to connect back to the pure joy of skiing. It’s a lesson that we can all relate to, and I think it’s important for us to have that time for reflection.
Angel charging hard in Palmer, Alaska. Nic Alegre Photo
So you were part of the Palmer, Alaska crew. How did it compare to your other Alaskan experiences?
Angel: I had flown around that zone just a teeny bit, but it still felt very new.
The runs were really long. To put that in perspective, they were two to three times what we normally film on. The terrain was pretty convex, which made it really blind. You’d have three to four points in your line that you couldn’t see where you were going. Having to memorize a really long line is pretty challenging, and it makes it hard to ski fast and confident. It definitely added a bit of a challenge. The snow was actually pretty good up top, but a lot of the exits had bad snow.
Elyse Saugstad, Nick McNutt, and Griffin Post joined you. How was that dynamic?
Angel: The crew was awesome! Honestly, it’s awesome every year. It was really cool having Elyse up there because that’s the first time there have been two girls on a TGR Alaska trip. That’s a big deal. We’re definitely pretty goofy and Saugstad brought out my goofiness. She also brings a very intense element. She’s been doing this for a long time and has so much experience. It’s crazy how she can read the weather—she’s like a weather hawk. Plus, her skiing is hard-charging.
After some time in Wasatch, Angel came into filming ready to rock and roll. Nic Alegre Photo.
How was it collaborating with her?
Angel: We both like to start things off mellow and progress from there, which differs from the guys who are eager to jump into things. It was nice to have that duality. The guys have always done this for me. When I feel unsure they’ll get on the radio and pump us up.
What’s the kind of silly things you’d do?
Angel: So I brought a shake weight with me and would hide it in people’s packs. They’d go out in the field and find it hidden away in their backpack, it was an ongoing game. I’m always the weird one to bring silly things to Alaska like wigs or slingshots.
What about McNutt and Post?
Angel: Nick is so passionate about skiing. He is the kind of person who’s always looking at photos of the terrain. He makes game plans, gets his line dialed, and studies the terrain. He does it all day and all night. It’s so helpful because it helps us find new zones.
Griffin is the quiet and calculated guy. He’s so smart and puts a lot of thought into things. He’ll usually let people talk, but when he says something it’s always poignant and well thought out. Also, it was his first AK heli-trip! It was really cool seeing him get that opportunity and shred a bunch of different lines. He brought just as much to the table as the rest of us.
That’s what I love about TGR. The crews are always so solid.
After some time in Wasatch, Always known for her big smile and pranks, Angel brought the high energy to the Palmer crew. Nic Alegre Photo.
What keeps enticing you about Alaska?
Angel: It’s just like unlike anywhere else in the world. It’s a magical combination of all the elements. If you score it right, it’s got perfect snow. It’s got the best angles and features. I love being around the glaciers, it’s a magical feeling. Alaska is also so vast. When you’re on top of those peaks you’re looking as far as your eye can see at mountains or the ocean. There’s this overwhelming feeling of being dwarfed, but at the same time, you’re in absolute skiing perfection. There’s no other place in the world I’ve felt that. And it’s impossible to not feel like a tiny speck up there and I like that a lot.
Could you tell me more about what happened with your big crash in Alaska?
Angel: It was weird. The snow was punchy and I was doing a spine transfer and my bottom ski punched through the crust, which was under a layer of good snow. The ski got wedged in there and stopped me abruptly. That dramatic stop just threw my body into a complete 180. Somehow I was able to pull it together, but in that recovery, I skied right onto a series of little rocks. It jarred me, stopped me, and then tipped over. I couldn’t stop falling because it was so steep.
It was a freak thing looking back. I don’t know if I would have done anything differently. I’ll say I was a little off on my line, but punching into that snow was really freaky. Sometimes freak things happen and it’s always a good and humbling reminder of the brevity of what we do.
Every time something big like this happens it’s important to do a self-check. There are small things I would have done differently, but overall it was just a weird thing. I’m just really grateful that I’m okay.
I’m walking away just grateful to be here.
I appreciate you being honest about the lessons we can learn from crashes and injuries. When we get hurt we don’t want to talk about it. Do you think there is growth in these situations?
Angel: Well we need to. We need to be able to look at ourselves honestly and figure out if we’ve made mistakes. That’s what life is all about, improving and getting better, and it’s okay if things get messed up.
It was a pretty violent fall, and I felt lucky to just walk away with a knee injury. I learned a lot from rehabbing my previous ACL tear, and this one has been much easier. I’ve been trying to be better about being open about the process. Every time I post about an injury I get responses about advice or tips. Now I’m in a better place to be a bit more outward.
The master artists paints a line down a pristine Alaskan face. Nic Alegre Photo.
Well, especially in the mountain community. You know, you don’t say ‘I like to ski’, you say ‘I’m a skier or mountain biker.” These sports are part of our identity and it’s debilitating when we can’t do them.
Angel: It’s big. My first ACL injury was a huge identity crisis. I think that’s really common for people who go through a traumatic injury for the first time. You start asking who you are if you can’t ski or do the things you love.
Being willing to ask yourself those questions and sit with them creates a lot of growth. Maybe you’re not able to answer these questions—that’s okay—but at least recognizing them is really important. It really tends to cut core to the deep part of you.
Did you injure the same knee?
Angel: Nope, the other one. This one held strong!! After the crash I remember patting the fixed one thinking ‘you did so good!’.
But for my last knee surgery, I did a hamstring replacement. For the other knee, I did a cadaver and it has been amazing. You have to be careful because you feel better quicker, but it’s still really fragile.
How has it been going through this process with your brother John?
Angel: Well it’s funny because I don’t who I got this new ACL from, so I’m calling my fixed knee “Bruce Knee.” When John watched this whole thing happen he decided to go the cadaver route as well and wanted to know who the donor was. I told him to just name it himself, so he went with “Muhammad Al-Knee”
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