Three times in Angel Collinson’s life she felt like the universe was sending her a message she had to listen to. The first time was when she was 13 years old and she was watching pro skier Sage Cattabriga-Alosa ride a steep Alaskan spine in a ski movie. “I felt deeply, with every fiber of my being, like I was going to do that someday,” Collinson said. “I felt a calling to ski that kind of terrain.”
It took another decade or so, but by her early twenties, Collinson did ski that kind of terrain. Widely considered one of the top professional big-mountain skiers in the world, Collinson has earned high rankings on the Freeskiing World Tour and Freeride World Tour, and she's twice won Best Female Performance at the Powder Awards for her segments in films from Teton Gravity Research, the same movie company Cattabriga-Alosa films with.
The second time in her life she felt a deep calling was when she met someone who lived with an Indigenous tribe in the high Andes of Peru. “I knew I wanted to go and do that at some point in my life,” she said. She hasn’t made that happen yet, but it’s on her list.
And the third? She was on a friend’s sailboat off the coast of British Columbia a few years ago and the feeling came like a flash: “I knew I would spend a chunk of my life on a boat,” she said. “It felt like second nature to me, even though I’d barely ever been on a boat before. I just needed to learn how to sail first.”
Collinson is the type of person who listens to the messages the universe is sending her. She takes silent retreats, meditates regularly and believes in the power of ancient wisdom. Meditation, visualization and mantras have guided both her personal and professional life. She’s also the type of tough-as-nails person who’s not afraid of seemingly impossible challenges. (This is the athlete, after all, who tumbled a thousand vertical feet down an Alaskan face and walked away unharmed.)
She and her younger brother John, also a pro skier, grew up in employee housing at the base of Utah’s Snowbird Ski Area, where their dad worked as the mountain’s ski patrol director and their mom homeschooled the kids in the area. In the summers, the family would pile into their 1979 van and spend the months backpacking, camping and climbing mountains. She summited Mount Whitney, Mount Rainier and Mount Shasta before she was 10.
Collinson went on to become a talented ski racer. But when she missed a chance at the U.S. Ski Team, she decided to study environmental law at the University of Utah and give freeskiing competitions a try instead. Since then, she’s found her calling making ski movies and breaking glass ceilings.
All of which is to say: When Collinson, who’s now 29, recently found herself with the opportunity to buy an old 40-foot steel monohull sailboat docked in Maine, she naturally took it as a deeper sign about the future direction of her life. She bought the boat, is working to restore it and she has signed up for several intensive sailing courses this summer to learn how to operate the boat she now owns. She and her partner plan to set sail in November 2020 on what will eventually become an around-the-world mission. She’s still working on the details, but she hopes to make the sailing trip a philanthropic journey that in some way gives back to the coastal communities she visits.
The boat’s name is Sea Bear. It was built in 1990, the year Collinson was born. She took that as a sign that this boat was meant to be. “Everything lined up too perfectly,” she said. “I’m at a place where I can do this. I can make this happen.”
Just to be clear: Collinson isn’t giving up skiing. She plans to become a sailor and stay on course as a skier, too. “I’m hoping to mesh this with my ski career. I’ll sail during the months I’m not skiing,” she said. “Skiing has given me so much. But it’s just one part of my life. I really want to do something that’s meaningful and gives back.”
There’s one important hurdle she needs to overcome before she sets sail: “I’m afraid of moving water,” she said. “It’s a very visceral fear, like maybe I drowned in a past life.” She’s working on that fear through—you guessed it—meditation, visualization and mantras.
“In life, you can become complacent or unfulfilled,” Collinson said. “I had this feeling like I wasn’t growing. Life will always throw challenges at us. I wouldn’t say to everyone, ‘Leave what you’re doing and go sail around the world.’ But trying new things is a good way to push yourself so you’re always growing. I think complacency doesn’t create deep happiness.”
Collinson said she hopes her leap into sailing will encourage others to find their passion and follow it. “Sometimes the challenging first step is just figuring out what you want to do,” Collinson said. “It could be a salsa dancing or cooking class. Anything new is going to feel outside our comfort zone.”
Even though Collinson said her gut told her to give sailing a try, it’s still a big unknown. “I don’t know how it’s going to go. That process is scary. Even more than my visceral fears of being on the ocean,” she said. “But I hope that through sharing my story it will inspire people to commit to a small thing they’ve been dreaming of, or to take a step that feels scary but realistic. You’ve got to commit, and you’ve got to trust. I’m willing to fail. I’m willing to flop on my face. It’ll be a journey either way.”