Freeskier Angel Collinson

The pro skier talks avalanche safety

Madison Kahn

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

Most freeskiers choose their calling, but Angel Collinson was pretty much groomed for the job. The 21-year-old big-mountain star grew up in employee housing at Utah’s Snowbird resort. Her father, Jimmy, now head of snow safety, has been a ski patroller there since 1981.

In 2009, after Collinson narrowly missed the cut as an alpine racer on the U.S. Ski Team, she started entering freeskiing competitions. Her first year as a pro, she won the 2010 Subaru Freeskiing World Tour. Then, during a 2011 event at Kirkwood, near Lake Tahoe, California, disaster struck: fellow competitor Ryan Hawks, Collinson’s boyfriend, landed hard after soaring off a 50-foot cliff and soon died from internal bleeding. The next day, Collinson clinched her second title skiing the same slope.

When Madison Kahn caught up with Collinson in November, it was only a day after another well-known freeskier, 38-year-old Jamie Pierre—who holds the world record for the highest cliff jump, at 255 feet—died in an avalanche at Snowbird before the resort opened for the season.

OUTSIDE: What happened to Pierre at Snowbird? This wasn’t one of his cliff-jumping stunts.
COLLINSON: The mountain was roped off from the bottom, so Jamie hiked up Alta and crossed over to Snowbird from the ridge above. The gray area is whether the ridge was marked as closed. My dad does as much as he can to prevent stuff like this, but it was Jamie’s choice. He knew it was blocked off and went anyway.

The avalanche forecasters were telling everyone to stay home.
It sounds like Jamie and a friend triggered a slide while they were hiking up. Instead of turning around, they kept going and skied off the other side. But it’s hard to know all the factors involved. Any time skiers are out in nature, we’re subject to variables we can’t control. Risk is part of the sport; you just have to be savvy about it.

Did you learn that from your dad?
My brother and I were trained to have an acute awareness of the mountain. He’d run us through drills and mock scenarios. Now it’s our job to keep practicing that stuff. I always ski with a buddy, and we constantly check in with each other.

After Hawks’s accident and now this one, do you feel differently about freeskiing?
Death will never change how I feel about skiing, but it does change what I do to be safe. Sometimes skiers feel like they have to make a decision out of pride. The most important thing is to have the confidence to change your mind.