A Night at the Roadway Inn

Words by: Kat Parks

Photos by: Cayman Waughtel & Kat Parks

Day 1: Sitting in our Roadway Inn hotel room, sleepy dog at my side, relaxing from a day spent in the Crystal backcountry and waiting to go pick up our food from Athena’s. I can’t really say that I’d rather be doing anything else this evening. After 2 weeks of a totally bummer rain crust covering our mountains, we found the most gorgeous blower pow in the backcountry today.

We had Bullion completely to ourselves and put in some beautiful laps through knee deep snow that welcomed my eager shins. For the second time this season, we deployed our ski crampons as we were blowing our skis every other step on the steeper terrain due to the aforementioned crust. Communication is key in the backcountry and Cayman and I both decided that putting ski crampons on at the bottom of the skin track instead of in the middle of a steep section was the best course of action for the rest of the tour’s uphills.

Now, I don’t want this blog to be all trip-report all the time because that’s pretty boring to write about. I literally could have just written that we found some blower powder to slide down and that would have summed up our day just as well. So I want to touch on a topic that I think about a lot: when your backcountry partner is also your romantic partner. There is absolutely no doubt that I appreciate that Cayman and I can share the mountains together in the ways that we do but communicating when the stakes are higher (like when entering avalanche terrain) is different when doing so with your romantic partner versus any other type of partner. It’s different because there’s more emotional baggage to navigate. Cayman knows me in intimate ways that no one else does and as much as this can help our communication in the backcountry, it can also throw a wrench in it. All in all, we communicate pretty freaking well but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t something that we always work on. A lot of times, the easiest way we work on our BC miscommunication is to have a regroup when we are out of a hazard (because in the middle of a hazard is out of the question). Our regroup is usually quick and straight forward like this, “Hey, when I said ‘X’, I truly only meant ‘X’, nothing else.” Our communication journey will never be finished and I’d say that our learning together in the backcountry accompanies us in our life’s most mundane activities as well. 

Day 2: Cayman was in a fairly foul mood at the onset of our tour this morning. Neither one of us slept very well due to a fidgeting, peg-legging dog sleeping between us so I let him work through his grumpies on the skin track. His spirits quickly lifted as we ascended into the burn zone and started talking about the snow before putting in a short lap. Fresh turns cure many a discontent. We picked up another couple inches overnight so our laps today were through even deeper powder especially off the backside of East Peak.

Now, in part 2 of when your backcountry partner is also your romantic partner, the other piece to this partnership is acceptance that there’s a chance that I may have to perform a rescue on Cayman in the event of a slide. Despite the fact that we are conservative in our trip planning, constantly talk about the snow while skinning and skiing, and make adjustments if needed, there is a chance that when we enter avalanche terrain that a slide could happen and that either one of us could end up having to search and dig the other person out.

I try not to dwell on this for too long but it is something that I think about. In the event of a slide, how will I maintain composure to search for anyone, let alone for my husband. In the event of a slide with multiple burials, how will I feel if the first person I dig out isn’t Cayman and I will have to continue with their rescue knowing my husband is still buried. The truth is that I don’t know and I sure hope that I never have to find out but asking myself these questions and recognizing that the possibility is there is my way of wading the uncomfortable waters of backcountry skiing. 

Back to our day. Cayman descended off the backside of East Peak first and when we got to the bottom he asked me if I had overheard the people talking at the top as I was getting ready to drop in. I hadn’t so he had this to share with me:

- Some guy, “There’s a hardboot splitter over there with a big mustache.”

- Some lady, “Like a short creepy mustache?”

- Some guy, “No...like a big mustache.”

- Some lady, “The kind you wanna walk up to and make out with?”

I really wanted them to still be at the top when we skinned back up so I could inform them that I get to make out with that mustache anytime I want. 

Once we got back to the car and I began to put my gear away, I noticed some big black marks on my touring pack. Turns out that I’ll be carrying around remnants from this trip for quite a while as I must have scraped against one of the burned toothpick trees on the way up. 

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