Johnny Collinson has been a mainstay on the TGR roster for years, slaying everything from big Alaskan peaks to BC pillow lines and literally everything in between. This winter, he returned to one of his favorite zones: BC’s Purcell Range to charge pow and get some quality camping time in with his friends. With a heli bump into the woods, the crew set up camp and started indulging in some of the finest foot-powered skiing BC has on offer.
We wish the story ended there, but unfortunately Johnny crashed hard on only the second day filming, aggravating a nagging ACL injury. It ultimately cut his season short, but for the ever-optimistic Johnny, he saw it as an opportunity to try new things and focus building even more strength for the coming season’s adventures. We caught up with the unstoppable Johnny in between his busy rehab and training schedule this fall to learn more about his time filming in BC, stacking shots on a bum knee, and his goals for next year.
Chasing dreams in BC with Johnny Collinson. Jeff Cricco photo.
Give us a rundown of last season for you, we saw you all over the place before coming up to BC to film for Winterland.
Johnny: So for me, the season started in December and was pretty mellow after coming off of an ACL injury from the previous season. I blew my knee in early April and had the surgery. I rehabbed and got back on snow in December and was pretty psyched to not even miss a beat, you know? After that, I did a couple of things, like we had our IPRW course in Jackson and then did another safety course with Red Bull up there. It’s always pretty cool to brush up on and learn new stuff, and see how people - your friends and teammates - are moving around in the mountains.
After that I did some sports readiness testing just to see how my legs were doing and that went super well. So I booked tickets to Japan after that and figured just got to go ski powder! I just met with my buddy Nate to kind of film a little project of our own. The idea was just go have a mellow trip in Japan, pow, you know, get the legs back underneath me and not be stressed in two months. Then the idea was to get home from Japan and just go straight up to BC and start filming with TGR. I heard that Mcnutt and Mac we're kind of filming around Squamish and I was like sick, I'll pop in with those guys. I really missed the goods around there by a few days, but it was sick to head up to Stellar with crew and meet up with Sage.
Have you spent much time skiing Mcnutt and Sage in BC before?
Johnny: I realized on the way that was our first trip together in BC! I had filmed with Sage years ago during my first film with TGR in Wyoming, for Almost Ablaze, and then with Mcnutt up in Alaska. We’re all good friends and Sage is the absolute guru so I was really excited to get up there with them.
Stellar Heli's terrain in a nutshell. Jeff Cricco photo.
Can you describe the zone you were in at Stellar Heli?
Johnny: I mean the mountains up there are so cool. I think kind of an outstanding feature of the Stellar terrain were these big wild boulder fields, long gradual pillow lines that are kind of in the lowlands. But then there's these steep faces up above, and this Alpine terrain too that feeds down into that pillowy tree and boulder field skiing. There are so many little folds in the mountain and in the heli it's crazy easy to get around anywhere. So having a base camp was really the trick to learn the zone. You're like, “let’s go over this little ridge and then, oh, let me get this stuff, and then a tiny bit further opens up like a whole new world.” You get to find all the nooks and crannies and figure out what is really worth skiing.
For you, what’s special about winter camping?
Johnny: I love the winter camping life. It just makes you feel so much more engaged with the terrain and the mountains around you than while heli skiing or this and that or staying in a hotel. You wake up, you get into the mountains and you kind of have to deal with what the mountain did overnight, or what the snow did overnight. Maybe you were locked out for a couple days, so you have to do your homework. It feels like so much more intimate, so it's definitely cool to just be in touch with a zone and not much more. It’s also cool to refine your skills and learn what works and what doesn’t. What works in BC might not work in Alaska or vice versa. You know, like how you set up the tents or how you set up the toilet or whatever it is. For example, the fire pit this year was so insane because they had learned from last year that they could make this crazy firepit. It's the little stuff like that makes it really memorable.
Winter camping should be a party. Jeff Cricco photo.
How does the concept of Winterland resonate with you?
Johnny: Ha, that’s a good question. I mean I think Winterland is somewhere we all strive to get to every year. You know, we all want to be living the dream and ski pow every day, all season. And it's what we've lived for all year. Of course, there’s also the community aspect, especially on the trips I was on with Mcnutt, Sage and Mac up in BC. It was so cool to see their community up in Squamish and Pemberton and then continue on the camping trip where it was nothing except our own little community out in the woods. You're just kind of sitting in this little snow globe with the 10 of us out in the middle of nowhere. That's pretty special.
That camping trip took a turn for the worse when you crashed and injured your knee. Can you tell us a more about that?
Johnny: So it actually happened on day two of the camping trip, when we were just messing around, not even really doing anything creative. Sage stepped out this little lip and we started sessioning it, so I thought “Oh perfect, I'll just do some backflips and get my feet back under me and I couldn't quite get it.” So I got a little frustrated and kept trying, and finally got one around only to land in this super deep crater from my last attempt. My knee kind of caved in. My skis didn’t come off and my knee buckled underneath me and I knew immediately what had happened. I actually originally thought I had done much more damage, like dislocated it or something and tore it all up cause it was like so much more brutal than the first time I blew my knee. I was pretty mad!
The crew all came over and there was kind of this moment of silence because they realized what had happened and then they helped me back to camp. We had to skin back to camp. Luckily, we had a heated tent that was super nice so I hunt out and kind of iced my knee for awhile. I knew that it was messed up but I kind of played the card of “well you know, it might just be a strain or it could be anything. You never know until you're going to checked out.”
Not bad for a bum knee. Jeff Cricco photo.
So I weighed my options, and realized I could still comfortably ski, just not very hard, so I figured that I might as well make the most of the rest of the trip. I know the doctor wouldn’t have recommended to keep skiing, but I didn’t want to sit out for another year just yet. So I stayed and kept skiing mellow stuff with my buddies. I couldn’t hit pillow lines or jumps, but got some pretty epic pow shots in the film.
Fun fact: Most of my shots in the film were actually from after the injury.
That’s heavy! We’ve all seen the gnarly rehab and workout videos you’ve been sharing. Can you share a little more about the comeback process?
Johnny: Yeah, it was pretty tough at first time around because it was the same knee I had done the year before. So this time I had to get two surgeries: one was a bone graft to fill the old hole in my knee, and then the second was the actual ACL reconstruction. I blew my knee in February, but didn’t have ACL surgery until the very end of June. So that went from a nine month recovery to like 14 months.
I’m so lucky to have so much help from my sponsors and the industry, so I can really focus on working hard to stay strong throughout the whole process. Having that help is like having a shot of pure motivation.
Do you have any advice for anyone going through something similar? It’s tough to have what your favorite thing taken away from you for so long.
Johnny: Skiing has defined who I am for so long, but both these recoveries have helped me realized that we’re so much more than just skiers or bikers or climbers. It takes that distance to realize that sometimes. Of course, the recovery is super overwhelming, especially with knees because they take so long, but my advice is to break it all down into little chunks. For me, I thought, “Okay, what's the first step? I need to get to these certain points, like before surgery gets done and then after surgery.”
There are these little milestones to reach and that helps you deal with it mentally. It’s all about setting short term goals and getting that boost of confidence once you reach them and moving on to the next one. It’s hard to stay motivated and happy and confident, but I’ve learned that breaking it down really helps me, because that works for me when dealing with fear in the mountains too.
In terms of the identity thing, I found that it was really fun to be a beginner at something again. I’ve spent the last 10 years pedal to metal with skiing, and before my surgeries, I had also set myself some really high goals in climbing, so I had to put those on hold for a bit. So I had to ask myself, what else am I good at? So I spent some time learning how to shoot and edit videos and take photos and spending time reading books every day. I’ve also found a new love with mountain biking.
We did see you at Red Bull Rampage this October, what’s it like seeing the highest level of mountain through the eyes of Johnny Collinson?
Johnny: It’s just as crazy, man! What those guys are doing is so next level, and I have so much respect for what they’re up to. I started mountain biking a bit ago, and I totally suck, but it’s really fun to learn a new thing. Hanging out at Rampage and seeing the similarities between that and big mountain skiing is really cool. Standing on top of those drops and jumps really get the blood pumping. I got to know some of the riders pretty well, like Brendog and Carson and Andreu, and was totally fanboying them down there. Good times.
There is certainly more of this on the horizon for Collinson. Jeff Cricco photo.
What’s up for you next season?
Johnny: Well, doctor’s orders are not to be on snow before February, so I’m going to take it kind of easy for a bit and likely not film next winter. But I know that’s going to come up quicker than I think. My longer-term goals include heading back to Bolivia in the spring to see what else I can find down there, which I’m really excited about. There’s also possibly talk of linking up with my buddy Griffin Post on a trip to Asia. That’s under wraps still though, but keep an eye out for that.