Lessons Learned - Skiing out of an RV

How does my skiing out of an RV dream match up with the real experience?

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I have been a skier pretty much all my life. Skiing on small hills in Minnesota as a kid. I became a ski bum in Jackson Hole right out of high school, lived a winter season in Red Lodge four years later and became a certified ski instructor that season. Unable to figure out how to break into the ski industry as a professional, I spend my working career back in MN in things not related to skiing. I continued to ski every year with one or two vacations out west and even splurged for helicopter and cat skiing a few times. Always dreamed of living in the mountains, just never seemed to happen. Still might….who knows.

In January 2020 my son and I ended up at Baker Mountain for a week. There we saw the spectacular setting of RV’s in the Baker upper parking lot. Just a handful of RV’s, ski lift steps away and this view.

Right then I knew I had to do this. Upgrade our camper to something that works in the winter. Drive to where the powder is for a month... Rendezvous with friends and my son. Maybe my wife would join us for a week along the way and we would snow shoe and or cross country ski. (She does not downhill ski any longer.)

Well…with COVID, countless mistakes I made, really cold temperatures and the reality of driving huge distances; the dream has not lived up to expectations this ski season. So for my own sake and perhaps the benefit of others, here is my thoughtful summary.

Cold

Mountains in January and February is cold. Sometimes really cold. Below 0 cold.

Some higher quality RV’s are built and sold as “four seasons”. I purchased a very good brand for this purpose. I am still working on solving a water freezing problem and I can tell you it is not the same thing as a nice warm condo. I will keep making improvements. Things like placing insulation material on the” large windows/doors and using a hair dryer to melt frost off the windows when temperatures drop. At least for me, a blanket was required to stay comfortable while sitting at the table.

Dark

When we camp in the summer most of our time is spent outdoors. Breakfast outside, hiking during day, dinner and campfire outside in the evening. It is dark at 8:30 or 9 and then we have great times at the campfire for an hour or so. Inside only late in the evening just prior to bed.

How does that compare to RV skiing? Perhaps you are back at the RV by 3 or 4. MAYBE it is warm enough to have a beer sitting in a chair outside. Soon it is dark and cold. For some, putting on a snowmobile suite could extend the outside time. For me, it gets pretty cold, pretty fast.

Now I am in a little camper at 4 or 5 pm. Of course next season I hope going out to a restaurant provides a nice break. For this COVID season it was “cabin fever” baby!

Small

For this trip I decided to be COVID safe and not have anyone in the camper with me at any time except my son. (Took a small risk there.) My thinking was that next season I could have a buddy with me at various times.

Our camper is 27 feet, larger than most I saw at ski areas. Even at 27 feet, it is a small space. There is not a bedroom or den anyone can escape to. It is too cold to sit outside. We were sitting around a small table 5-6 hours a night. It works ok for my son and I but it gets a bit creepy after several days, even for us.

A friend staying in the camper for more than a couple nights will not work well.

Driving

One of the principals of this venture was to go where the powder is. If it isn’t snowing where you are, odds are it isn’t snowing 200 miles down the road either. Maybe 1,000 plus miles down the road. RV’s & campers typically don’t drive 80 mph. More like 60-65 with frequent gas stops as I get less than 10 miles per gallon. On this last trip I think I drove 7 days and skied 3 days. Granted I didn’t hit a good rhythm and bailed on one location with no skiing at all. But no matter how you slice it, it is a ton of driving if you choose to chase powder.

Skiing alone

Steve Casimiro is the former editor of Powder Magazine and current editor of Adventure Journal. Powder magazine is no longer being published, Adventure Journal is an amazing publication. I encourage you to check it out. Steve is a great writer, his pieces are a joy to read. Here are some of his writings from Powder he has chosen to share. They are all amazing. I just read them again. Scroll down the bottom and read the one titled, “Ski Partners”. I could never put my finger on why I didn’t care for skiing alone. This is it. It would be a privilege to ski with Steve some day. When I head out again it is a must to find buddies to ski with.

Is there more to skiing than skiing?

In addition to ski partners and sharing the stoke, there are other parts of a ski trip and skiing that bring meaning to me. Even more meaning as I get older.

  • The morning. Making breakfast together, planning the day.

  • Lunch in the “Lodge”. Warming your toes by the fire while enjoying a bowl of chili.

  • Sharing a beer with friend(s) after the day of skiing. In the slope slide restaurant or on a chair in the sunshine outside.

  • Taking a nap on the couch by the fire at your warm and cozy cabin/condo/airbnb after a great day of skiing.

  • Dinner at the cabin. Hanging out in your long underware all evening.

  • Dinner out in a nice restaurant or a rowdy one with your fellow skiers reliving the great day everyone had.

  • A no holds barred game of monopoly or cards with family and friends at the spacious dinner table in your cabin.

What is the answer for me?

I think there is still a place for RV skiing. I just need to refine the formula.

For reasons I have already written, I think the best timing is March. Don’t fight the cold and dark. Give yourself a chance to to experience 50 degrees in the parking lot and a sunset at 7:30 or later. Spring skiing can be powder at the top and or corn between 10 and 2. Worst case it is warm and bit slushy at the bottom. Better than the worst case in the dead of winter. (Ass freezing cold and hard pack.)

A am a lucky man in being married to my wife who puts up with me and is ok with my occasional adventures without her. Even though she no longer skis, it is great fun to be with her on a 5-7 day winter ski trip, especially if our son is there. I take a few days off skiing and go cross country or snow shoeing with Jackie. We will NEVER do another family ski trip out of the RV again. See this post to know why.

I think the answer is for me to drive the camper to the selected location but for the family week we stay at a nice condo/airbnb. I go from there to extend the trip to where the snow is and work out how to meet a buddy to ski with.

The March time frame is best for Jackie as well. Much more fun to be outside when it is warm.

For mid winter, thinking I will leave the leave the camper behind. I will not go back to booking dates and lodging far in advance and hoping for snow. One of the advantages of being in the 3rd/4th quarter of life is that your time is much more flexible. I will work to gather friends of the same mindset and go somewhere last minute that is getting big snow. By driving we can avoid the pain of trying to fly last minute and only have to roll the dice on lodging. If you avoid holidays I’m confident lodging can be found. From Minnesota it isn’t too bad to drive to Colorado, Montana, Utah or Wyoming. Especially if there are multiple drivers.

There is one exception to this. Guided backcountry skiing out of a Yurt. I have only back country skied a couple times; the experience was fantastic. I have not done a Yurt trip but I think there are 3-5 friends of mine that will go in. Of course this has be to be scheduled in advance as these trips have become incredibly popular. Here is my past post on back country skiing this season in Teton National Park. I will write another post on this ski vacation concept.

After skiing Pomerelle (see this post) I decided to cut the trip short and head home. I was 2.5 days of driving from home and the thought of getting further away while skiing alone just didn’t work for me.

Finally, on an upbeat note I am considering one more run out there. Red Lodge is a 1.5 day drive from Minnesota and my son could join me for a couple days. Red Lodge typically gets great snow in the spring and with 2,400 feet of vertical it is no slouch. I’m not getting younger, my son won’t be willing or able to spend his weekends with Dad forever. Carpe Diem.

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