BD athlete Angel Collinson reports on skiing and filming in Alaska
The two seasons prior to this past winter Black Diamond skier Angel Collinson absolutely dominated the competitive freeskiing scene. It didn't take a genius to see her experience on the Freeride World Tour and Freeskiing World Tour coupled with solid race background would make her likely to excel one of the sport's most famous proving grounds: Alaska. Despite a heavy comp schedule in both the US and Europe this winter, Angel jumped all over the opportunity to take her first trip to Alaska with a group of heavy-hitters from Teton Gravity Research. Below is a report Angel sent us on her experiences skiing with guys she knew only from posters in her childhood bedroom and stepping into a completely new level of the sport and dealing with the fear associated with it.
Waking up from dreamworld in Alaska there was a phrase in my head. "Love is the answer." I don't know why it was there, where it came from, and it could have seemed kind of silly and cliché. But as I thought about it, I realized that it was pretty profound and very true. A lot of us in the outdoor community have lost loved ones and mentors in the past year, couple years, decade. Last year I lost my boyfriend, Ryan Hawks, during a competition we were both competing in. Needless to say, it made me think about how I want to live, whether or not this sport is worth the risk, and evaluate what's really important. How can we continue to live with joy and light hearts despite the losses?
I think the two most important things in the world to me are unconditional love and dreams. Dreams are funny things: they take place in an imaginary world where we can make anything we want come true. Dreams can also be the name given to our highest hopes, goals, or aspirations. To me, a ski slope and dream world aren't so different: a blank canvas where I can create anything I want, to be completely lost in the moment and do anything I feel like. I came to find Alaska was the perfect place for making dreams come true.
I was invited on a two week filming trip in Alaska, at the Knik River Lodge in the Northern Chugach with Teton Gravity Research. The athletes along with me were Dana Flahr, Sage Cattabriga-Alosa and Seth Morrison. The only girl on the trip I was also at least a decade younger (at 21) than everyone else; and this was my first real trip to Alaska, my first trip filming, and my first long heli trip. I had notably less experience in just about anything the trip entailed: helicopter protocol, sluff management, filming, and working as a tight unit/team to get the most out of our time in the mountains. Between lack of experience and the anticipation of encountering the unknown, a space was created that was easy for fear to creep into: fear of injury, fear of getting caught in an avalanche in this massive terrain, fear of ruining shots and letting the team down, fear of not being able to be everything I could be for this experience I'd dreamed of my whole life.
Something I thought about the whole trip was the saying "it's not about the destination, it's about the journey." After Ryan died, it really hit home for me that we don't know what's going to happen to us down the road, but if you live your whole life letting the outcome of situations change how you feel about all the moments leading up to them, it takes away from the actual experiences. Like climbing Everest. You spend years working up to it, months acclimating, weeks and weeks on the mountain with your comrades, sharing this awesome experience. You create thousands of valuable memories, hopefully having the time of your life. If you don't summit, do you look back on the whole trip as a failure? I hope not. Hopefully you enjoy every second of it, and the outcome of not summiting doesn't completely override your overall feeling of the trip, and all the things you gained along the way. I feel that in the same way, you have to have unconditional love for life, that you can't love life only if it works out the way you want it to. You have to love it with your whole, open heart, regardless of what happens, trusting if you love each moment as it unfolds you can lose the fear of not knowing what's going to happen. It opens you up to follow your bliss.
So there I was, in AK with the people I've had posters of on my wall since I was a little girl. Talk about a dream come true. I try to make a habit of giving thanks each day for the things I've got, and just for the chance to go up there I was giving thanks like Santa Claus giving presents on Christmas. There wasn't too much room or reason for fear, this was the most amazing opportunity I've ever gotten, and that was all that mattered. I'd go out there and do my best, and hope the rest of the cards fell into place.
I arrived, and after a couple weather days, my first ski day in AK began. The guys were incredible. They were super patient, giving me lots of encouragement and tons of tips:
"You'll probably want to hit the bergschrund over there, where it's a little bigger but has better tranny and you won't have to ollie as much."
"I would stick to the skier's left for the top part of your line and work your way over to the right, that way the sluff will funnel down that gully and won't get in your way later down."
"The snow below that rock band looks funny, so heads up when you get to that spot."
While some things seem obvious, in Alaska the scale is ultra-magnified and sights can be deceiving. I had to spend more time making decisions and picking lines, while taking into account things I wouldn't normally think twice about.
The team feel was strong, and we would all sit at the bottom of a glacier looking at the slope we were about to ski. People who really felt something could call out to ski this line or that, taking turns with who got the top line picks of the zone. It was a crucial part of keeping the stoke high: letting each person get their chance to ski something that really excited them.
We struggled finding good conditions; the storm had made many aspects wind-affected and crusty in places. In other spots warming had occurred and ruined the possibility of the deep, light pow that you need for a film line. One could have looked at it like "I've waited my whole life for a trip like this and now the snow turns to poop?!" But I've never really had that attitude about life, and like I said, it's about the journey. Whether or not we ended up getting good shots couldn't take away from the reality that we were experiencing. Just being there was amazing: the mountains take your breath away and the flight up the glacier every morning was stunning. You could almost feel the eons as you entered the land of giants and all you can see in all directions is crevasses, spines, and huge, huge mountains. We made the best of what we were given, and when we found a zone with good snow, good terrain, and good light. It was game on. The technique I developed from racing my whole life turned out to be the most crucial thing up there while standing at the top of my lines getting counted in before I dropped. The nervousness I felt like I'd been training my whole life to be let loose on an Alaskan line was priceless.
A year ago I would have snorted milk out my nose if someone had told me I was going to go on a TGR trip with those boys in Alaska. It's easy to give thanks when things are going well, but it's just as important to do when the going is rough. I made it my goal this past year to keep an open heart and maintain my love for life and skiing even when it was the last thing I felt like doing. The little voice we all have reminded me of the importance of dreaming, of unconditional love. That if you aren't afraid of what's going to happen and you enjoy what is, it opens up the door for good things to happen too.
After two weeks was up, we had gotten some really great shots amid the difficulties of weather, bad snow, wind and bad light. The whole thing was the coolest journey I've ever been on, and all of those "bad" elements are a crucial part of what makes Alaska what it is. It wouldn't be a complete experience without them. You have to respect Mother Nature and play her game. Most of this year's TGR flick was filmed in Alaska, and it turns out they are going to name it, "The Dream Factory." Somewhere between the Northern Lights and a 50-degree untracked slope, standing next to three of my heroes, one of my biggest dreams came true and I'm eternally grateful. Thanks to all you who have helped me on the way.