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.
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.
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:
- Leadville, Colorado:Ski Cooper
- Salida, Colorado: Monarch Mountain
- Park City, Utah: Snowbasin
- Jackson, Wyoming & Teton National Park: Jackson Hole Mountain Resort
- Lost Trail, Montana
- Missoula, Montana: Discovery Basin & Lookout Pass
- Whitefish, Montana: Whitefish Mountain
- Glacier National Park
- Sandpoint Idaho: Schweitzer Mountain
- Banff National Park, Alberta:
Sunshine Village & Mt. Norquay
- Ski Lake Louise
- Revelstoke, British Columbia:
- Silver Star, British Columbia
- Leavenworth, Washington
- Hood River, Oregon
- Portland, Oregon
- Bend, Oregon
- Lake Tahoe, California: Squaw, Heavenly & Kirkwood
- Mammoth Lakes, California: June Mountain & Mammoth
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.
- 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...)
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.
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.