Born in a small Alaskan fishing village called Aleknagik, with a population of just 219, Derek Collins learned a lot about the outdoors from a young age. Growing up, Collins and his family would travel to Bristol Bay via boat to harvest fish. He spent his summers setting up dryinig racks to hang salmon and sleeping in a wall tent.
“We lost about one-third of our catch to bears, and I would get so sick of eating salmon that I began to eat pilot bread covered in raspberry jam,” Collins says, referring to a type of hardtack cracker.
Collins lived in Aleknagik until fourth grade when his family moved to Anchorage. After graduating high school, Collins filled his time by purchasing junker cars and driving to the Lower 48 or buying plane tickets to arbitrary locations and attempting to hitchhike back to Alaska.
On one particular trip, Collins found himself stuck in Green River, Utah, with only two or three dollars. A German lady saw his predicament and brought him a couple bags of groceries from her camper. This act of kindness was just enough to help Collins continue his journey back to Alaska.
Wanting to remain immersed in the mountains while venturing somewhere new, Collins, then 24, decided to move to Jackson. After arriving in town, he began to explore the surrounding mountain ranges, making the Teton and Wind River ranges his second home.
He would spend his weekends running 80 miles across the Wind River Range, beginning at the Green River Lakes trailhead and ending at the Big Sandy trailhead. The route took him just 27 hours.
When he’s not working in facilities management at Friess Associates, Collins still spends the majority of his free time exploring the nooks and crannies of the region in all types of weather.
Being a mountain man at heart, Collins knows the cold. The bone-chilling winters of Alaska and Wyoming led him to the art of knitting. He produces intricate and beautiful sweaters, hats, and other garments.
“Knitting is a connection to the past,” he says. “A way to carry on traditions of our ancestors.” His artistic aptitude extends beyond yarn—he also dabbles with metal, pencil, and paint.
In recent years, Collins and his wife, Liz Collins, have enjoyed sharing new adventures with their family, including Tell, 5, and Greer, 7. Both kids have already gone winter camping, hunting, backpacking, and have skied much of the area. Collins is instilling the same passions in his kids that brought him to these wild places. His love for sharing his explorations and art is truly as genuine as it gets.