Words by: Kat Parks
Photos by: Cayman Waughtel & Kat Parks
It doesn’t snow in Olympia very often so I’m wrapping up my 3-days off by watching the flakes fall while drinking a Four Roses manhattan. The snow outside my patio seems apt since we just spent the last two days earning our turns in the high country. I am also happy to be safely at home and off the roads from our mountain adventuring because people living in the urban areas of the Northwest do not, I repeat DO NOT, know how to drive in the snow (or really in any sort of weather if I’m being honest) and I fear for my life at the prospect of even one flake falling on our city streets. Cayman and I have taken every other Thursday off in Jan/Feb (our normal days off are Tuesday and Wednesday) and when you couple that with the holiday weeks, we’ve had some nice micro-vacations since the new year. Our snowpack continues to be haunted by a persistent layer so fun, low angle terrain was the theme for this week again.
The FAFF Tour: The forecast was calling for partly clear skies at Paradise yesterday morning and since we hadn’t toured at Rainier in a while, it seemed as good of an option as any. Upon entering the park, our hopes of killer views with a side of fresh blower turns were dashed as we looked up at a thick cloud ceiling. Paradise was socked in and we deployed plan b so we could at least be more in the trees to have some point of reference for our sight lines.
Now, for whatever reason this season Cayman has become the Faff Master. Faffing or “fucking around for fucking ever” is inevitable and can happen at any point during an adventure. Cayman’s faffs this season have revolved around his layering and even though he usually has his shit dialed, his layering has been a point of utter frustration. Yesterday was no different as he overheated on the downhill and had to switch his clothes all the way down to his base layer. Cayman also spends a lot of time fucking with his boots. Granted, his feet don’t do well in ski boots and I can’t be one to judge since I have the most average, medium volume, can wear almost any boot as long as it’s not too wide, boring feet out there but his boot fit is a constant thing. As a Master Boot Fitter I have truly run out of things to suggest for him so I just let him do his thing because he’s also a Master Boot Fitter and knows his feet. Yesterday’s newest boot issue was due to him trying L pads in his boots but that caused his feet to go numb. As I watched our visibility go from bad to worse, Cayman worked on taking his boots off and removing the pads as carefully as he could so as to not lose balance and go hip deep into the snow without a boot on his foot.
Things were smooth sailing after that and we found some low angle treed terrain to put turns through. As rad as skiing powder is, I have just as quickly fallen in love with skiing powder in treed terrain but that doesn’t mean that I don’t lose form when something unexpected comes my way. At the bottom of our first run I hit a little G out and clotheslined Cayman across the belly with my ski pole as I careened out of the trees. Our skin out was uneventful sans the skinny bridge we had to cross over a flowing creek that also happened to have 5+ feet of snow piled on top of it. We spotted the resident Cascade Red Fox on the drive down while shoving leftover frangipane tart into our mouths.
Storm Day Tour:
We knew that today would be stormy and that the temps would be dropping so another tree skiing day was in the cards. Pippy joined us so we packed his disc into the avy pocket of my pack and set out. We skinned through the most beautiful, champagne powder as snow was filling the tracks behind us and Pip trudged along giving me flat tires every other stride. Quick and efficient transitions are a badge of honor for backcountry skiers/splitboarders and this is something that both of us continue to practice regardless of how much time we have. In order to be quick and efficient, I have found that transitioning is easiest when I do the same things in the same order every time even down to how I put things in my pack so they can come back out in the order that I need them for the next transition.
The term “secure your gear” is an important message to follow in any outdoor activity and it definitely applies to touring. In many cases, we find ourselves transitioning on ridge lines, in high winds, or on steep terrain so I let my guard down in the trees today and lost the grip on my helmet. “My helmet...” flew out of my mouth as quickly as my helmet slipped my grasp. I watched as the bright berry colored plastic turtle shelled down the slope as I desperately hoped it would get caught by something and stop. With my boots in walk mode and skins still on my skis, I skied down along the slide marks (putting in turns with skins on is uneasy to say the least) and I found my helmet nestled near a tree trunk waiting to be rescued.
It was cold enough that I skied with my skins in my jacket so they were easier to peel apart when transitioning to go back up and our brave little boy indicated that he’d had enough of the cold when he lifted his back right paw and looked up at me with his piercing eyes. We transitioned, picked up Pippy so we could clean the ice balls from his toes and headed down to make the snowy drive home.