“I never really imagined myself being a pro skier. I just… I’d always… My goal was to go to Harvard, I was on the full academic train and…”
And, well, the rest is history.
Following two years of extraordinary success in the world of big-mountain skiing, that statement from Angel Collinson is surprising, to say the least. The 25-year-old Utah-native is at the top of the sport. Notice how the word “female” is absent from the previous sentence. In an industry that has always been primarily male driven, especially in the big-mountain realm, Collinson is pioneering a shift in the skiing paradigm, blending gender lines to the point where there isn’t “women’s skiing,” or “men’s skiing,” there’s just “skiing.”
In 2014, Collinson opened TGR’s Almost Ablaze. Her segment set the tone for the entire flick, which won Film of the Year at the International Freeskiing Film Festival (iF3) and was the first female segment to open a TGR film in the company’s 17-year existence.
Collinson wasn’t done. This past fall, she closed TGR’s Paradise Waits with one of the rowdiest Alaska segments to date. For her performance, Collinson took home Best Female Freeride Performance at iF3 and became the first female to win Best Line at the Powder Video Awards. To top it off, gargantuan support from her peers earned her the title of Skier of the Year – Riders’ Choice in this very magazine.
And despite the deluge of media accolades, headlines declaring her ascension to the big-mountain throne, praise from fans old and new and sponsorship attention, don’t expect Collinson’s ego to grow too big for her five-foot-four-inch frame. “She has a good head on her shoulders,” says skiing icon Sage Cattabriga-Alosa, who has spent a great deal of time with Collinson over the past two years. “She will be fine.”
The foundation of Collinson’s successful career and the molding of that “good head on her shoulders” begins and ends in Little Cottonwood Canyon.
The Collinson family—Angel, fellow pro skier and younger brother John, father Jim and mother Deb—calls the base of Snowbird Resort home. They always have. Angel and John grew up sharing a five by twelve-foot bunkroom in the resort’s employee housing. Jim served as the assistant director of snow safety and Deb taught her children, plus a few other offspring of Little Cottonwood Canyon resort personnel, at a nearby homeschool.
From the time they were born, the youngest of the Collinson clan were completely immersed in the mountains—it was their norm. “Growing up in employee housing meant that the mountain environment was home,” explains Deb. “It wasn’t like you were traveling somewhere to go skiing, it’s just what you did.”
“It’s the way that my life has always been,” Angel says of her existence among the peaks.
During the warmer months, the family lived primarily out of their renovated 1979 Ford van, which they used to gallivant across the American west in search of new adventures. “They used to call us the ‘Swiss Family Collinson,’ because we’d go into the van and disappear,” describes Deb. “We were vagabonds, we were hermits in a sense—really dirtbagging it. We were always making it work, whatever it took.”
When Angel was 6, the family embarked on a summer road trip. They started in Baja, went through San Diego and to Mt. Shasta in northern California. Both Angel and John, despite their young age, held up well trekking around the 14,180-foot peak. “We were like, ‘Okay,’ and we kept going, we went to Mt. McKinley,” explains Deb. “It was the first time they were camping up high. There was no glacier travel, but we were going on long hikes all day long. We began to realize that they had such a sense of achievement, like, ‘wow, cool, we actually did that.’”
The search to regain that triumphant feeling played a part in the family’s continued journeys—and Angel’s drive to tackle bigger objectives further down the road. The other fuel for the travels of the Collinson family (besides the gas pumped into the van) was an intense go-getter attitude. This also spawned a philosophy that has helped Angel ascend the pro skier ranks. The use of the word “can’t” was frowned upon among the Collinson clan.
“[Saying] ‘I can’t,’ comes with an attitude. [It says] ‘I’m going to shut down, I don’t want to do whatever it is,’” Deb says. “Them being good kids, they wanted us to believe in them. We respected them and they respected us. We respected [them] too much to believe them when they said ‘I can’t.’”
That attitude holds true with Angel today. “My whole philosophy is really that we’re capable of a lot more than we think. And my favorite saying recently has been that, ‘whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right,’” she explains. “That just plays into the whole ‘can’t’ saying and growing up. We always had to say ‘I’ll try.’ If you didn’t think you could do it, instead of saying ‘I can’t,’ you had to say ‘I’ll try.’”
And with all of this—tight living quarters, faraway family expeditions, high-alpine ascents, rain soaked nights in the tent, winter tram laps at Snowbird and that “can-do” attitude—it was inevitable that Angel and John would form an unbreakable bond.
“It’s a really personal influence that we have on each other. It’s having the best skier buddy that you could ask for,” says Angel. “A lot of times it’s more [about having] both a mentor and a best friend. Somebody that gets what you’re doing, that gets the industry and also just gets you. You can bounce ideas off of them or just be a sounding board and have a person that’s always encouraging you. They’ll say, ‘don’t put up with that,’ or ‘I think you can do that better,’ and also help you to understand when you’re being too hard on yourself.”
Because of how close the two are—they’re also roommates residing in a house they built together at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon—Collinson always has someone to turn to. With the recent accolades, it’s certainly a benefit to have someone by her side.
“We’ve seen all of each other’s ups and downs, and can give good advice to each other, whether that’s with technical skiing, professional relationships, personal relationships, how much candy to eat, whatever,” explains John. “She knows she can talk to me about anything, and with skiing I think I help her see the fun in everyday shredding—that it doesn’t always have to be about ‘training’ and this and that [strictly] for the professional side of [the sport].”
John’s reminder that skiing should always be about the fun isn’t just a passing remark, either. It’s something that Angel has had to come to terms with since her freeskiing star first appeared in the sky back in 2010.