The Final Days: North American Snowboarding Roadtrip

 A scrapbook collection of lift tickets, ski passes, trail maps, photos and artwork from along the way.

A scrapbook collection of lift tickets, ski passes, trail maps, photos and artwork from along the way.

Last weekend, I rode my last days of the 17-18 ski season and it was a season unlike any other. In the Airstream, Isaac and I visited 19 ski resorts in 6 states and two countries. We drove over 5,000 miles and spent 130 nights winter camping in temps often below freezing, all while working from the road.

 Probably one of my favorite camping spots of the season. Right in the heart of the hot spring mecca in Mammoth Lakes, CA.

Probably one of my favorite camping spots of the season. Right in the heart of the hot spring mecca in Mammoth Lakes, CA.

 Easter Morning at Heavenly, Lake Tahoe with our amazing hosts Kristin and Chris.

Easter Morning at Heavenly, Lake Tahoe with our amazing hosts Kristin and Chris.

As far as actual snowboarding goes, this season was not high on the list. It turns out that between work, driving, travel planning and setting up camp, there isn't a lot of time left to actually go snowboarding. This taught me that – while this trip was unforgettable – winter roadtripping is not conducive to epic powder days and a solid season on the mountain. But as they say, it's all about the journey, not the destination, right? 

When Isaac and I met last summer, I was set to spend the winter snowboarding off-the-beaten-path in Eastern Europe's Bansko, Bulgaria while Isaac had plans to hunker down in the Utah desert. I bargained with Isaac saying that I would stay in The States this winter if we could chase the snow through the Northern Rockies and British Columbia. 

 Me, Isaac, Rico and Trixie in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. I'm grateful to have the opportunity to live this lifestyle and that I've found the perfect travel partners.

Me, Isaac, Rico and Trixie in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. I'm grateful to have the opportunity to live this lifestyle and that I've found the perfect travel partners.

We meticulously planned for winter life on the road. We both have a lot of experience with traveling and life on the road, but we had no idea what to expect for spending winter in the Airstream. Isaac added insulation to the camper, invested in tire chains for the truck and trailer and created backup plan after backup plan for cold weather; including extra propane tanks and space heaters. I researched ski passes, travel routes & winter-accessible campsites, prepared a budget for fuel, camping and food and stocked up on non-perishable dry goods to make sure we stayed well fed on a budget. 

Check out some of our big stops:

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Life on the road is always full of lessons. It teaches us patience, flexibility, compromise and to keep an open mind about taking unplanned routes, following advice from strangers and listening to what our bodies are telling us. Life on the road reminds us that we are not always in charge! When Mother Nature brings us snow, we pull over and enjoy snowboarding on a powder day. When She makes it really really (really really) bitter cold, we fill up the gas tank and drive over mountain passes until we can feel our toes again. When equipment fails or plans fall through, it's not possible to give up and go home, because life on the road is home. We remember that we chose this life and we have to take the good with the bad. 

 The general route of our roadtrip +/- a few roads, side trips and backtracks.

The general route of our roadtrip +/- a few roads, side trips and backtracks.

Favorite moments:

  • Camping in the parking lot at Lost Trail Ski Area for my first ski in/ski out experience
  • Meeting awesome lady artists at Outdoor Retailer in Denver
  • Reconnecting with my Japow friends Sara & Pete for $10 night skiing at Silver Star in British Columbia 
  • Best powder day of the season at Revelstoke, British Columbia
  • Spending the weekend at a watercolor retreat at Mt. Hood in Oregon
  • Thawing out for the first time this winter with spring skiing and hot springs in Mammoth Lakes, California

Least favorite Moments

  • Having my credit card hacked while in Canada – leaving me cardless for three weeks until returning to the US
  • Snowboarding in -30*F in Banff and Lake Louise
  • Overall exhaustion and winter burnout (about mid-February...) 
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Winter Camping Pros:

  • It's the road less traveled. Many tourist hot spots like Jackson, Glacier and Banff are less busy in the winter months making it more enjoyable to explore. It also means that it's more likely to find a campsite without a reservation.
  • Many smaller ski resorts in the north allow overnight camping. We camped overnight at Lost Trail, Whitefish, Schweitzer, Silver Star and Revelstoke. (Always check rules and regulations for a resort and speak with a parking lot attendant or guest service person before parking).
  • A lot of US and Canadian National Parks maintain parking areas for winter campers. Teton and Glacier Nation Parks plowed small areas of the parking lots and charged a small fee to stay overnight. Banff and Lake Louise campgrounds had full campgrounds plowed with electrical hookups and warm bathrooms with hot showers. The price tag was a little high, but it's worth it and still cheaper than renting a condo any day.

Winter Camping Cons:

  • Less access to public lands and free camping in areas where roads are not maintained.
  • Most camping options are limited to RV parks and developed campgrounds. This can get tough on the wallet.
  • Cold nights mean using more generator fuel and propane for the furnace. 
  • It's more difficult to find functional amenities i.e. dump stations, propane refills and running water.
  • Even campgrounds that are open year-round often don't offer hookups, so it's important to be self-contained and able to provide your own water and electricity. About 75% of the parks and campgrounds we visited had electric hookups. None of them had water or sewer. 
  • Cold spells kept us locked up inside the camper more than we would have liked. Cabin fever is real. We played a lot of cards and spent a lot of time in breweries.
  • Showers. We don't use the shower in the Airstream in the winter, so I experienced a lot of noisy rec center showers and freezing cold walks with wet hair from the bathhouse. Going 4-5 days without a shower became pretty normal for me this winter.

Overall Takeaways:

The experience of this trip was one-of-a-kind; I got to see so many beautiful mountains, meet up with new and old friends and learn to overcome so many things. However, I don't think I'll do a winter-long roadtrip again. I prefer to spend my winters somewhere with an unlimited ski pass where I can learn the trails, have a favorite après spot and take ride breaks on my work days.

High Mountain Creative in the News

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Last week, I was featured on the She Explores Women on the Road segment. For my interview, they asked me some pretty fun questions about being a remote worker and traveling full time in an Airstream during the winter. 

Check out my interview and so many other amazing lady adventurers here: Margo Stoney on She Explores

I'm also excited to announce my collaboration with Mahfia and Skate Like a Girl SF Bay. Last year we worked together on some designs for the SLAG's big launch. It's always so awesome working with organizations that are making a difference in diversifying action sports.

Take a look at my Mahfia Spotlight interview. You can read about my 15+ years working in the outdoor industry and how it all started. Margo Stoney on the Mahfia Spotlight.

 Mahfia x High Mountain Creative Collaboration on Skate Like a Girl's Launch of San Francisco Bay. Photo:  Mahfia

Mahfia x High Mountain Creative Collaboration on Skate Like a Girl's Launch of San Francisco Bay. Photo: Mahfia

 There are still a few shirts left for sale at the Mahfia shop.  Click here  to get yours!

There are still a few shirts left for sale at the Mahfia shop. Click here to get yours!

Watercolor Retreat at Mt. Hood

 Nikki and me with our paintings of Mt. Hood. Despite the stubborn clouds all weekend, the skies cleared just long enough to paint the mountain.  Photo by:  Nora Pitaro

Nikki and me with our paintings of Mt. Hood. Despite the stubborn clouds all weekend, the skies cleared just long enough to paint the mountain. Photo by: Nora Pitaro

I’m always looking for professional development opportunities outside of the traditional conference environment. Going to a large, industry-standard conference has its benefits, but when it comes to making lasting connections and having unique experiences, sometimes they don’t fit the bill.

 My starry night study.    Photo by:    Isaac Miller Photography

My starry night study. Photo by: Isaac Miller Photography

Despite going to a fine arts school, most of my drawing and painting skills have been self-taught. Throughout my years as a designer, I’ve taken more and more interest in learning other mediums to incorporate into my design. When I learned that one of my favorite artists on Instagram, Nikki Frumpkin of Drawn to High Places, was hosting a watercolor workshop at Mt. Hood, it didn’t take me long to make the decision to go.

The weekend took place at a small mountain resort in the Cascades with gorgeous views of Mt. Hood. There were nine of us, all artists from all around the country with different artistic styles and experience. We kicked off the workshop with nature walks and watercolor demonstrations. Nikki showed us some of her favorite techniques and shared some of her creative secrets that make her paintings so unique. 

I’m really happy with my new-found watercolor skills and to have a new group of ladies to look to for inspiration. 

 Our amazing group of ladies!  Photo by:  Nora Pitaro

Our amazing group of ladies! Photo by: Nora Pitaro

Hood River & Portland, Oregon

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It’s nice being in Oregon. I’ve visited here a few times before, but have never really had the opportunity to get a lay of the land and explore. When Isaac and I rolled into Hood River, it was 60 degrees and sunny. We were excited to see Memaloose State Park had just opened for the season, it’s a perfect spot right on the Columbia River and only about 20 minutes from Downtown Hood River. I was able to spend Saturday with Jon & Sami (and baby Pippa), who showed us a nice Rico-friendly trail off at the Catherine Creek Day Use area. Afterwards, we visited Everybody’s Brewing in White Salmon. I sure have done a lot of beer drinking in Oregon, and I haven’t even gotten to Bend yet!

 Portland Japanese Garden  Photo by:    Isaac Miller Photography

Portland Japanese Garden Photo by: Isaac Miller Photography

In Portland, I took Isaac to the Japanese Gardens – I went a couple of years ago and wanted to show him. It’s a really beautiful, peaceful way to pretend I’m in Japan. We did some other pretty typical Portland things like VooDoo Doughnut and Base Camp Brewing, but, honestly, none of us really felt like being in the city parked at a concrete RV park for very long.

After two nights in Portland at the Columbia River RV Park, it was back to the mountains. We found a quiet (at least in March) and wooded campground outside of Welches, only 10-15 miles from Mt. Hood. It’s been awhile since we’ve been in one spot for awhile and I’m definitely feeling relieved to be stationary for more than 3 nights somewhere. 

In addition to some new big projects, I’ve been working a lot on restructuring and growing my business – something that’s proven to be very difficult while traveling full time and moving locations (on average, every 3-4 days). While the long drives full of deep conversations have given me the ability to reflect on the future of my business and creative life, there are stressful days where I can’t get my work done. I fall behind on my responsibilities, which makes me feel like I need to reassess my priorities to assure that I am balancing everything just right to fund this lifestyle. 

 The Cascade Mountains look like a crazy green mountain jungle with hundreds of shades of green in the form of moss, ferns, plants and trees. Being in the forest feels like being in a different world.  Photo by:    Isaac Miller Photography

The Cascade Mountains look like a crazy green mountain jungle with hundreds of shades of green in the form of moss, ferns, plants and trees. Being in the forest feels like being in a different world. Photo by: Isaac Miller Photography

Our main reason for rerouting to Oregon was because I had signed up for a weekend watercolor retreat at Mt. Hood that I signed up for with Nikki Frumpkin from Drawn to High Places. I’ll be drawing and painting in the woods with new people all weekend. And the best part…free indoor hot showers!

 This week, I worked on this fun submission for  Misadventures Magazine . The theme was, you guessed it, land. One thing I want to do more of, is submitting my work for contests and submissions in order to create more outlets to share my art.

This week, I worked on this fun submission for Misadventures Magazine. The theme was, you guessed it, land. One thing I want to do more of, is submitting my work for contests and submissions in order to create more outlets to share my art.

Southern BC & Washington State

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I was ready to find some warmer temps and escape the high alpine environments for a bit. After a few days snowboarding up at Silver Star in BC, we thawed out in Kelowna and the Okanagan region. We drove for miles and miles down the Okanagan Lake. All I could think of is how beautiful it must be in the summer.

 Trixie in front of the vinyards at Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery in Oliver, BC.

Trixie in front of the vinyards at Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery in Oliver, BC.

Before leaving Canada, Isaac entertained my idea of visiting one of the hundreds of wineries in the area for a quick tasting before we crossed back into the US. We stopped by Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery where I got to taste some fine Canadian wine, get a peek into the bottling facility and buy a bottle of dry chardonnay for later.

 Leavenworh, Washington. No real Germans here, it turns out.

Leavenworh, Washington. No real Germans here, it turns out.

Crossing the border back into the US was pretty uneventful. The agriculture gal took an avocado and my cactus from the trailer. Take note....avocado. Cactus. Something about being back in the imperial speed limits and American soil seemed oddly comforting. Our first night back in the US would be in Leavenworth, WA – a German-themed town in the eastern Cascades. I was sorely disappointed when I heard the truth that Leavenworth has no real German heritage whatsoever and was established based on the question of "how can we get more tourism here?" Regardless of the lies, Isaac and I enjoyed the scenery, bratwurst and beer. We even found our new favorite dog-friendly bar Bushel & Bee. My friend, Breanne, who I've known since high school came over to visit for the day from Spokane. Have I mentioned how much I love seeing friends on the road?

 I think my next personal challenge will be hand-drawn fonts. I'm still in the doodle phase. Professional hand-letterers are my heroes, they have so much patience and attention to detail.

I think my next personal challenge will be hand-drawn fonts. I'm still in the doodle phase. Professional hand-letterers are my heroes, they have so much patience and attention to detail.

Alberta & British Columbia, Canada

Revelstoke Airstream

The Canadian Rockies have had some of my favorite views of the trip so far. These massive mountains seem to just keep going and going with crazy shapes and pointy peaks. We spent a week camping at Banff National Park and in Lake Louise. The Canadian parks cater way more to winter campers and RV'ers than the parks in the US. Unlike our desolate, sans-amenities stays in Teton and Glacier National Parks, we were welcomed with electrical hookups, heated bathrooms and hot showers. Temperatures dipped down to -30* F a few nights so having electricity hookups really eased some of the stress of trying to keep warm as we were able to use our little space heaters and an electric blanket at night. With the brutally cold temperatures, we spent more time that we would have liked of time indoors – either in the camper, sightseeing by car or at Park Distillery in Downtown Banff (we loved their distillery tour). Our snowboarding days at Sunshine, Lake Louise and Mount Norquay were brief with frequent warm-up breaks. 

Isaac braved the cold and snapped a couple of beautiful photos at of the Lake Louise campground at night. Photo by: Isaac Miller Photography

Trixie all lit up at night. I'm warm and cozy inside. Photo by: Isaac Miller Photography

A peek into the things we do when we get cabin fever. Photo by: Isaac Miller Photography

 A little dotty mountain that I drew sitting at the bar at Park Distillery while I waited for Isaac to return from Calgary on a phone-finding mission after his got run over in the street.

A little dotty mountain that I drew sitting at the bar at Park Distillery while I waited for Isaac to return from Calgary on a phone-finding mission after his got run over in the street.

We ended up cutting our time in Lake Louise a day short, the extreme cold was getting to be too much upkeep and we had worries about doing damage to the truck and trailer. I was also going stir crazy! We traveled west to the Columbia Mountains where we landed in the town of Revelstoke, British Columbia. We drove for three hours and gained nearly 50 degrees in temperature. 30*F felt tropical and we were finally able to thaw out and spend some time outside snowboarding and hiking with Rico. Isaac and I agreed that it was our favorite mountain to ride so far on the trip. Bearable temperature and fresh snow always helps. We camped for a few nights at the renovated Boulder Mountain Resort before taking the camper up to the ski resort parking lot where they allow one night of free RV parking. Waking up next to the gondola and walking out the door to get on the mountain is the best. I loved the town, especially the fact that they had a coworking space, Mountain Colab. You can usually get a good feel for a community and entrepreneurial vibe of a town based on their coffee shops, libraries and availability of coworking. I found this little gem of a shop called Love Making that had beautiful prints, t-shirts and other hand-made goods by the artists. I bought a gorgeous pair of earrings which I immediately lost! 

We're approaching our last few days in Canada. We've been enjoying the quiet back parking lot of Silver Star Ski Resort – land of great snow, a colorful, vibrant little village and $10 night skiing on weekends. My friends Sarah and Pete – who I met in Japan – came up to visit us from Kelowna and we took advantage of some nighttime powder stashes and a warm night of soup and stories inside the camper afterwards. Being on the road really makes me miss my friends and family, so it's really nice to make stops where I know I'll be able to meet up with them. 

Next stops include Leavenworth, WA – a German-themed mountain town that has been on my to-do list, Hood River, OR – for a watercolor retreat with Drawn to High Places and Easter and Spring skiing in Lake Tahoe.

From the studio, I just finished 28 days of tiny stamps in February. Each day, I carved and printed a mini block print. A lot of them tell a story from my trip, but some of them are just fun!

 

Northern Montana & Idaho

 Trixie parked right at the base of Whitefish Mountain. Check out Rico's little dog head in the window.  Photo by:    Isaac Miller Photography

Trixie parked right at the base of Whitefish Mountain. Check out Rico's little dog head in the window. Photo by: Isaac Miller Photography

We finally found the snow in Whitefish, Montana. I had visited this town over the summer and it was blanketed in a thick layer of smoke to the point where I couldn't even see any mountain peaks. The town is a little touristy, but I have a few little spots I love.

 Trees covered so heavily in snow that you can't even tell it's a tree. It's a snow ghost!  Photo by: isaacmillerphotography.com

Trees covered so heavily in snow that you can't even tell it's a tree. It's a snow ghost! Photo by: isaacmillerphotography.com

Camping at Whitefish Mountain is free for guests – the parking lot is large and easy to navigate with the camper. The ski in/ski out was so essential here because we hit a pretty good powder day, getting first chair was way easier than driving the 25 minutes from downtown. After a few wet, snowy nights at the mountain, we decided to book a night at the Firebrand hotel downtown Whitefish. We all took long, hot showers (including Rico), enjoyed tasty dessert in the lobby and soaked in the gorgeous rooftop hot top under the stars.

 After spending every night for two months outside in the trailer, we took a break in Whitefish and dried out and warmed up in a hotel. They really took good care of Rico.

After spending every night for two months outside in the trailer, we took a break in Whitefish and dried out and warmed up in a hotel. They really took good care of Rico.

Next, we spent a few nights off-the-grid at Glacier National Park. They have a few spots plowed for campers and winter camping was free with park admission. It was the beginning of a brutal cold snap, complete with blowing wind and blizzard conditions. Winter in the park is peaceful and beautiful but far from any civilization. 

 

 I actually got a lot of work done in Glacier NP because there were no distractions and the weather was too brutal to even want to go outside. These are some mountains I drew from some ski designs for Shaggy's Skis.

I actually got a lot of work done in Glacier NP because there were no distractions and the weather was too brutal to even want to go outside. These are some mountains I drew from some ski designs for Shaggy's Skis.

Long Overdue Update from the Road

I left off on my travel log in Park City, Utah over a month ago. Since then, I've been snowboarding, working and Airstreaming in Jackson, Wyoming, Missoula and Whitefish, Montana and – probably the most stressful leg – a long drive back to Denver for Outdoor Retailer.

Wyoming Highlights

  • Rico's Basecamp got its first gig taking lifestyle and landscape photos for Fireside Resorts, the fancy RV park and cabin rental spot just down the road from Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
  • We dry camped for a week in Grand Teton National Park. The park keeps a parking lot plowed for insane people who like winter camping and only charges $5/night. We had the place to ourselves and enjoyed snowman building, lake gazing and snowshoeing.
  • I rode Jackson Hole Mountain Resort for the first time in my life. Just when I thought I was a pretty rad snowboarder, I rode one of their double blues on an icy day and my ego took a bit of a beating. That place is STEEP and definitely only for serious skiers and riders. Once I got to understand the terrain (and saw some fresh snow), I loved the technicalness of the runs and lack of aloof intermediate skiers.

Montana Highlights

  • We spent a long weekend camping and riding at Lost Trail on the Montana/Idaho border. This is one of my new favorite places to ski. It's straight out of the 90's (but in a good way). Chill locals, no-frills lifts and lodge, awesome snow, crazy weather and cheap lift tickets...just how skiing is supposed to be!
  • I'm seriously considering Missoula for my next place to live, so I spent a week there visiting some of our favorite spots:
    • Noteworthy - an excellent stationary shop with a plethora of in-house-made letterpress cards. Great artist inspiration.
    • Bernise's Bakery - lavender cupcakes. I won't say anything else.
    • Kettlehouse - Isaac loves the beer and I love the cheap peanuts.
  • We celebrated Isaac's birthday at Lookout Mountain (on the other Montana/Idaho border), he got a free lift pass for going on his birthday!

Somewhere in here, we drove 1800 miles to Denver and back for the Outdoor Retailer tradeshow where I met some super talented artists, inspirational women and saw loads of really cool new outdoor gear.

Tonight, in Whitefish, we're staying at The Firebrand Hotel. I haven't slept "inside" in over two months and I haven't taken a shower in five days. I love the comforts of our silver home, but man, am I excited to soak in a tub and stretch out a bit.