While traveling the world chasing snow in charming mountain towns, it's hard not to pick up a few keepsakes along the way. For pro freeskier Angel Collinson, her favorite souvenirs can be found just under her skis and a blanket of white. She loves to collect cold, hard rocks.
The 23-year-old has been picking up jagged little pieces of Earth and putting them in her pocket since she was a kid growing up in the employee housing at the Snowbird Ski Resort in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah. It helps that her parents and little brother Johnny are also avid collectors. It might be the only household in the world where giving each other rocks for Christmas and birthdays wasn't just acceptable, but expected.
"While climbing some 200 mountains in the West with my family, we started this tradition where we'd pick a rock close to the summit and take it home with us," said Collinson, who spent her summers until age 14 in a 1979 blue Ford van that served as the family's mobile base camp as they road-tripped in the offseason.
Today, the 2011 freeskiing world tour champion has about 400 rocks from all over displayed on shelves in her new home just outside of Salt Lake City, where she lives with Johnny, 21, who has his own collection of another 400 or so. (Incidentally, Johnny is also a pro skier who made headlines in 2010 after becoming, at age 17, the youngest person to complete the Seven Summits in 365 days.) Along with 30 animal skulls, 50 seashells and 15 pinecones, they basically live in their own private version of a natural history museum.
No two rocks look alike. The Collinsons made sure of it.
"We have rocks from the same places, but we have such different taste. He likes shapes that remind him of something, and I'm drawn to texture, like stripes, ripples and bubbles. And colors, such as crystal clear, blue and red," she said.
The differences are even more evident these days. During their recent move to their new pad, Collinson not only dusted off their collection, but also took soap, water and a toothbrush to each piece (none are bigger than a fist).
Each rock tells a story. Some, she believes, have healing properties.
"Crystals and other minerals have a certain molecular structure that build upon themselves to carry different energetic properties," she said.
Others are straight-up memorabilia.
"I have some rocks from a crater in a volcano that we skied in Chile," she rightfully brags. "One of my favorite rocks is a meteorite. It's the size of a golf ball, but it's heavy, and I usually ski with that one in my pocket."
That one she admits wasn't a find, but rather a purchase. For really special specimens that are extremely rare, she's OK with putting down some cash. About 50 from her collection were store bought. But the most fun is in the find. The next place she hopes to go rock hunting, specifically for crystals, is on Chamonix mountain in France.
Her obsession, she acknowledges, could one day lead to a future in geology, but for now it'll have to take a backseat to a bigger passion as a Teton Gravity Research (TGR) athlete. After cutting her teeth in international competitions as a teen and making her name as a freeskiing champion by 2011, she began starring in TGR films. You can see her in action in the new feature-length film "Way of Life," which premiered Sept. 21 at the Walk Festival Hall in the Teton Village in Jackson Hole, Wyo.