Angel Collinson has called Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah home her entire life—26 years to be exact. As a child, she lived with her mother Deb, father Jim and brother John in Snowbird’s employee housing, where Jim was the assistant director of snow safety for the resort. Angel and John have lived in a home they built themselves at the mouth of the canyon since 2012.
However, at this time last year, the 2016 FREESKIER Skier of the Year came to the realization that she was making less and less of an effort to spend time in Utah and that it was time to set up roots somewhere else and to forge her own path. After a fortuitous trip to Hawaii to rehab her injured knee in December, a final destination emerged, that was the polar opposite of the Aloha State: She was going to relocate to the the Last Frontier, Alaska. She arrived in her new home of Girdwood this week and I caught up with her as she was getting ready to open up an account with the Alaska Federal Credit Union to talk about the catalyst for her move, splitting up the Collinson duo and what driving 3,200 miles with a pet snake in tow is really like.
O’Neill: What spurred this big life decision?
Collinson: Well, last summer John and I were having a conversation up in Glacier National Park, we were up there for a Red Bull training camp. It was the first time we’d gotten some good one-on-one time together in a while; we couldn’t do that day’s activity (whitewater rafting) because we were both were injured. So we got a good day in the Park and John was the one who was like, “You know, I feel like you’re ready to leave Salt Lake,” and I hadn’t really been thinking about it too much but I realized that he was right. I was traveling all the time and not really making any effort to stay home. I was like, “Yeah, you’re right, actually,” so we had a good talk about that and what it meant to move, and I realized that I was ready for the next place to go and to start a new chapter.
Then, this past fall I was in Hawaii, rehabbing. I met a guy who was also rehabbing his knee, and we ended up falling in love, now he’s my boyfriend and he happens to live in Alaska. So I spent a bit of time with him up there this past winter… quite a bit of time, actually… and just realized that it felt like home. It has the mountains that go right to the ocean and an incredible lifestyle, and Alaska has always mystified me since I was a little girl. I guess it was in the stars all along.
That’s sounds like a movie plotline.
[laughs] Yes, it totally does.
You’ve obviously spent a great deal of time in Alaska skiing in your life, do you have any expectations for being there full time?
What I’m looking forward to is making more of a priority to be home when I can. Traveling is really hard on everyone, we’re not really built to travel all the time, you know? So I’m ready to change my life routine a little bit and I’m really looking forward to some of the things that Alaska has to offer that not many other places do. I’m excited to go fishing and foraging and gathering a lot of my food and nourishment from the Earth, from wild sources.
And then obviously all of the outdoor activities; every day, there’s something to do, it’s crazy. My boyfriend, [Jeff Hoke, lead guide for Chugach Powder Guides], calls Girdwood the “multi-sport capital of the world,” because you have surfing… he has two jet skis that he uses to go find surf breaks… cross country biking, downhill biking, skiing and so many more activities you wouldn’t normally think of. I’m looking forward to being outside more at home and traveling less. I’m going to see how it goes.
How do you think living full-time in Alaska will shape your ski season?
I think I’ll be a lot physically stronger and in better shape overall. Less tired and stronger. I haven’t really been on the best workout or diet program lately, but in general it’ll offer me a way to just be a lot stronger, more grounded and settled overall which always transfers into skiing better and enjoying it more.
Let’s get to the road trip from Salt Lake to Girdwood. That’s a really, really long distance. Do you have any funny stories from the journey?
I have never driven a trailer before, I bought one down in Salt Lake to eventually sell up here, which allowed me to bring everything that I wanted up with me. But, because of that and the conditions of the road, I wasn’t able to go as fast as I wanted to, so it was supposed to take 48 hours from Portland, Oregon to Girdwood, but ended up being, like, 56 hours. The road was full of frost heaves and potholes, so I’m driving this big old trailer and I have my pet snake in the backseat in its cage, on top of three tables, and the road was so bumpy that he was catching air back there.
It was pretty much non-stop driving with a couple of six-hour sleep sessions, but we had to make it back in time for Jeff to get back to work, so we were on a schedule. Once you started getting to the middle of the Yukon Territory, it was so beautiful and you’re in the middle of nowhere, there’s no buildings, towns or any sign of mankind for miles and miles and miles, which is such a good feeling.
You passed through Utah, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, BC and the Yukon Territory on your way, you must have met some interesting characters along the way, right?
I wanted to make more pitstops, we wanted to bike along the way, but just didn’t have time. It really struck me, we didn’t see a lot of people except at the gas stations, which consisted of the routine of, stop, get out, pump gas, get back in, go… but there was a couple of people I ran into just at gas stations in the Yukon, as soon as we hit the Alaskan Highway. It made me realize that there are these colorful, crazy characters that live in Alaska and the Yukon that are so wild.
There was this one guy, we called him the Mayor of Watson Lake. This guy lives about an hour plane flight away from any kind of town and he lives off the land in the summer, has a farm in this tiny town. In the winter months, he is out there by himself, living off the land, with no one there, no one comes to visit, it’s so far out of the way. I wondered how many more people in this part of the world live like that. I’ve never really gotten to talk to many people that live quite so isolated. These are some of the only places on our continent that allow for that lifestyle.
Now that you’re getting settled in Alaska, and you’ve taken this long trip, do you have any emotions that have been stirred after leaving Utah?
Yeah, I thought it was going to be easier because I travel all of the time, I was like, “Oh, I’m going to move all the way to Girdwood, no big deal!” But, it was a lot more. At first it started out as this general restlessness and anxiety, and it was just a signal to me about the importance of this time in my life and it indicated that I needed to pay a bit of attention to both what I was leaving behind and also what I was looking forward to and be present in the transition and understand that I was having both emotions of sadness and excitement. It’s the first time that I’ve ever left John or my family, so that’s a big part of the emotional response, and just realizing that life changes. Sometimes we get so comfortable in our routine and leaving the people that we love is just a part of life, but it made me really appreciate what I have with them and made me want to strive to make time for them moving forward.
Leaving. For good. For the first time ever. One of my last sunsets here in this house that my family built with our own hands, in this beautiful canyon, Little Cottonwood: the only home I've ever known! Time to see what lays beyond these granite walls. It's amazing how we don't fully appreciate what we have until it's time to say goodbye. We humans are so funny, and moving is more difficult than I expected. I head to the great white north, the last of the truly wild and untamed: Alaska. The place where we can hear the whispers of the earth still. I hope to listen. I've never left John before. I've never had such good friends in my life as in SLC now. It's funny how sad it makes me! But there are many adventures, new loves, new friends. New ways to understand the timelessness of our connections and our passions. While sometimes I struggle with the ever present existence of social media, now I am grateful. I guess all these words are mostly for me, but still. Status update!!! Haha. Would love to hear any of your tricks for moving, growing, etc. ❤️❤️ onward and upward!
It’s the first time you’ve left John, do you think this is an opportunity for the two of you to grow separately?
Yes, for sure. I think it’s going to be good for both of us, and we’ll be able to grow separately. Also, it’ll be good because living together, we don’t really make time for each other in our lives. It ends up that I don’t actually see him very often, because we’re not usually home at the same time and if we are we’re running around packing for the next trip. But now, both of us are a little more intent on making trips together, whether it’s a surf trip in Indonesia or a ski trip, and making a priority to spend more quality time together. It’s going to be an interesting new chapter for us.