Why ski legend Angel Collinson gave up the mountains and went to sea

By James Shackell – June 15, 2022 – for adventure.com

    Last year, legendary skier Angel Collinson turned her back on the mountains, jumped in a 40-foot steel boat, and sailed across the Atlantic. We sat down to find out why.

    Last year, legendary skier Angel Collinson turned her back on the mountains, jumped in a 40-foot steel monohull boat, and sailed clear across the Atlantic. Despite being afraid of water. Here’s how she found the courage to leave one world behind to chase a new horizon.

    Widely considered one of the best big mountain skiers in the world, Angel Collinson is the first woman to be nominated for (and win) Best Line at the Powder Awards. In her first year on the Freeskiing World Tour, back in 2010, she won the overall title, then backed it up with another win a year later. She’s appeared on magazine covers, starred in adventure films and was recognized by ESPN as one of the Top 50 Females in Action Sports in 2014. 

    So it came as a bit of a shock in 2021, when arguably the most talented skier in a generation announced she was taking a break from the sport. Her next step? A 40-foot sailboat named Sea Bear and a trans-Atlantic crossing. In November 2021, Angel made it official, retiring from skiing for good.

    We sat down with Angel to chat about skiing, sailing, and why you should be wary about turning your passion into a job. 

    Collinson and her partner, Pete, on their 40-foot sailboat named Sea Bear.Photo: Peter Willauer

    Skiing has been my whole life for 30 years, but there were a couple of moments where everything changed. The first was a date with my partner, Pete. It was our second date, and we got talking about sailing, and he was like, “I’d like to teach you,” and I said, “It’s always been a dream of mine,” and before long we were like, let’s just do it. Let’s just do the thing: buy a sailboat and sail around the world. This dream that both of us had, we just put it out there. And then right after we said the words, the gears started turning. Sometimes life presents us with these possibilities, and it’s hard to know, right, whether you should go for it. Do you capitalize on them or not?

    We were initially going to keep it close—just sail around Bermuda and the Caribbean—but sometimes when you make plans, things start to fall apart. Because we were racing hurricane season, and the trip just wasn’t going to work, we turned to each other and said, “What if we sail across the Atlantic instead? That’s where the trade winds are blowing.” I’d never not seen land before, never sailed a blue water passage, as they’re known. But it quickly just became the right thing. We both thought: we can actually do this.

    Collinson skiing a technical line in the backcountry of Alaska.Photo: Adam Clark

    Learn to sit with your fears

    My 10 years of big mountain skiing were all about me developing a good relationship with fear. I learned that it’s an informer. Sometimes the fear will tell you, don’t fucking ski that line, something is off. It’s an intuitive hit. Other times it’s more like nervous energy. I’m not scared of deep water, but I am scared of running water, moving water: rivers, waterfalls, rapids, that kind of thing. Sometimes just being in water, or feeling that disconnection from the land. I’ll have a real panic thing kick up, and it requires very conscious calming to make the fear go away.

    What I’ve learned is that you have to sit with your fears, let them inform you whether something is a go or a no-go. You have to step back and try to assess the feeling. What is the fear trying to tell you?

    You rarely regret the decisions you make 

    When I gave up skiing this time, it was kind of similar to when I went to college and quit ski racing. I was like, “Are you freaking kidding me? I’ve spent my whole life working my ass off to make the US ski team, I narrowly miss it, and now just I’m just going to give up?” But the decision had been coming for a while. I could have quit five or six years ago, but I wanted to be absolutely sure.

    I think we all have those things in our lives, that ‘Coulda Woulda Shoulda’ mentality, where you look back and wonder if it was all worth it. There’s a part of me that thinks, “I wish I’d learned instruments when I was a kid. I really, really wish I’d known music better. I wish I’d got to socialize more.” That’s something I don’t think I’ll ever get over. But at the same time, I’ve come to a place where I’m starting to appreciate this magical component of life. You start to see, in hindsight, that all the experiences you have, all the work you put in, all the sacrifices you make, it’s rarely not worth it. Somehow, it all pays off.

    As a professional skier, Collinson traveled around the globe to compete and film video parts on some of the most challenging and technical ski lines in the world.Photo: Nic Alegre

    Stagnation is also uncomfortable 

    It’s funny, but I actually don’t like being cold. I really hate it. I grew up with the cold, of course, that was my family’s thing. The snow was my ticket to something greater, something I was good at. Then it became a successful career. I kept being in these environments that didn’t feel great for my body, and that was challenging. Now I’m sailing across oceans, even though I’m afraid of water.

    I think there’s a deeper part of me that’s called to these things, things that I’m afraid of. They make me appreciate so many aspects of life. And the thing about comfort zones is that, if we stay there, stagnation can also feel pretty uncomfortable! We get to choose—if we’re lucky, and privileged—we get to choose our own suffering.

    When I think about the different environments on Earth, the jungles and the mountains and the open ocean, what they all have in common is intensity. I love intensity. When you’re really living in these raw environments, feeling connected to the Earth, there’s just nothing like it.

    I met Pete and we talked about sailing, and I realized there was this window that had opened—this brief moment of possibility—and yes it felt ballsy and scary, but that’s a feeling we all get,” Collinson says. “When something feels kind of crazy but also right.”Photos: Peter Willauer

    Sea Bear, Pete and Collinson’s boat, sits anchored while the pair explore an island.Photos: Peter Willauer

    Don’t burnout on your hobbies

    I used to love big mountain skiing. When I was racing, big mountain skiing was my outlet, that was my enjoyment. I’d spend all this time working on my technical skills, in the gates, and then, when the coaches would be like, “Okay, just go out and ski Snowbird.” That was time for pure fun.

    And then big mountain skiing became my job. Then there was all this expectation. And I wanted to get better, you know? But because I didn’t have that pure enjoyment factor, because I was always focused on improvement, it sucked all the fun out of it. When we’re striving to get better at something, to create something, it actually takes us out of the process. The whole thing becomes about the result. I had to learn this over and over, but with skiing, unfortunately, it was too far gone.

    This year I’ve been learning music for the first time, and for seven or eight months, my teacher wouldn’t give me any drills or technical anything. She said, “I see you Angel, and I know how you are, and this is all about learning to enjoy music for what it is.” People always think, “Oh, it’d be so cool to be a rock star,” or to do what you love for work, but I actually think it changes your relationship to your passion. Being able to do something without the expectation of result—that’s priceless.

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