Skiing Beyond Expectations

Words by: Kat Parks

Photos by: Cayman Waughtel & Kat Parks

With the likelihood of wind slabs triggering a persistent slab, we researched our options on Tuesday night with one thing in mind: terrain less than 30° and far away from terrain over. We don’t get many persistent slabs in our coastal snowpack so when we do, we use extreme caution. Our go-to for planning these types of tours is heading to Paradise because there is plenty of fun, low angle terrain and the views are some of the best if Tahoma and the Tatoosh decide to show up. We knew that the gate opening at Longmire may be delayed due to overnight snow so we waited until 7am when the park service posts on Twitter. Sure enough, delayed opening until 11am which can mean several things - the gate opens at 11, the gate opening could be delayed another hour, or the gate won’t open at all. None of those 3 options were viable for the type of day we wanted to have so we called on our plan b, loaded up the Forester (Pip and all), and headed south. 

The drive to White Pass is long but really beautiful. There’s usually little to no traffic and driving through the small towns, farm fields filled with horses, cattle, alpaca, and elk, and looking above to see fog-filled cliffs and mountain sides is something special. The ski area was busy when we drove through (I always take a particular satisfaction in knowing that I won’t be standing in a lift-line or having to worry about where others are skiing in relation to me during a pandemic) and we parked just east of the ski area near the PCT trailhead. 

This was a new zone for us so our expectations were low and we didn’t plan on ripping skins (even though we saw some potentially skiable terrain on Caltopo) which is also why we brought Pippy along with us. Like many of our mid-week tours, we were all alone. Once we skinned away from highway 12, it was dead quiet among the old growth trees with the occasional bird chirp and animal tracks through the snow. Patches of blue sky appeared overhead and I’ll never tire of looking up at huge, snow-covered firs among a blue backdrop.

After skinning in about 2 miles, we realized that the potential of ripping skins and actually getting some turns in looked likely. Old growth is fun to ski because the trees are just far enough apart and the terrain we found was around 25° with the steepest short pitch at 30° (I deployed my inclinometer to make sure our eyes were correct). 6ish” of fluffy powder laid on top of a crust making the prospect of some unexpected but fun turns a reality. We found a spot to make a platform and made our first transition. 

We have never actually skied with Pip, only skinned around with him and had we known that we would be ripping skins, we would have been better prepared. Pip doesn’t do well with any sort of transition or having to sit still when others are working. I have been around herding breeds for much of my life and I can tell you, without any doubt, that heelers have the most obnoxious, high pitched, make you wanna commit murder, bark of any other herder. They are also more stubborn, more driven, smarter, and more persistent than any type of dog I’ve spent time around (there’s no need to argue with me on this). What else would anyone expect from a dog descended from dingos who was bred to drove large groups of 1000 lb. cattle around in the Australian heat all day long? They were bred to get kicked in the head, charged at, and nearly trampled and keep at it with relentless vigor and stamina. Only heeler people understand when I tell them that Pippy is part heeler, part asshole. At almost 7, Pip can pull energy from a place inside of his body that I will never be able to understand even when I know that he’s fucking exhausted. I held Pippy so Cayman could get a few turn head start before unleashing the Snow Shark. To our surprise, our boy did phenomenally well and yipped as he plowed through the powder trying to keep up. Where Pip struggled was when we were transitioning so now that we know he can ski with us, we will bring his disc to give him while we transition so he can do his ‘job’ and feel useful. We also won’t be taking him into any higher risk terrain so treed areas less than 30° will be his bread and peanut butter.

The ski/ride out also exceeded our expectations in that we were able to slide all the way to the trailhead. The thing with skin tracks is that they make a nice smooth surface to slide out on when the terrain is a gradual descent. We actually got going fast enough that we both frequently had to cut outside of the track to scrub speed. I crashed on the way out trying to avoid a several foot fall into a shallow creek that happened to also be in the elbow of a tight turn. We rewarded our efforts by stopping at the Taqueria outside of Packwood for a drink and tacos. It was our first indoor dining experience in quite some time (we’ve only eaten inside twice now since Covid) and we were the only ones in the restaurant. My lemongrass and ginger dry cider went down easily and I don’t think I could ever eat my fill of chips and queso. 

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