Thinking about planning your first van ski trip but unsure where to start? Any hardcore skier, or adventure enthusiast, must try out van life during the winter. It is a life-changing experience. Van life allows for the freedom to travel around the country to ski the best snow, whether at a resort or in the backcountry. Ready for an adventure? Well it is time to plan a van ski trip this winter.
Is a Van Right For Me?
Personally, I chose to experience winter van life in Colorado, in search for some of the best snow on the planet. The best part is the freedom to go anywhere. I was not tied down to any particular location. I was able to explore all the different locations and could stay wherever I ended up for the night. Yes, there may be some hurdles to overcome like parking and figuring out how to shower. But well worth it. Van life will be an epic adventure. You will not regret or be disappointed.
But before you search companies to book, check out these tips and my experience with van life to determine if it is the right choice for you. First off, ask yourself some of the following questions:
Am I comfortable driving a larger sized vehicle? How many people are in my traveling group? What is my budget for the trip? Do I mind sleeping in the cold? Can I go a day without a shower? What is my budget for the trip?
Answering those questions will help to determine if van life is right for you. In my opinion, a van is cozy and can easily be lived out of for a short period. However, a van can get reasonably cold during the night and a long hot shower is probably not going to be available. So, you have to decide what you are looking for during your trip.
Colorado Van Ski Trip
On my trip out to Colorado, I rented a Dodge Promaster 1500 from Native Campervans in Denver. There office is a short 30-minute Uber from the airport. Most companies doing van rentals have different hours, so plan accordingly dependent on your flight’s time of arrival. It may be necessary to spend the first night in a hotel and get a fresh start in the morning.
There are three different options: The Biggie, The Smalls, and The Squad. However, I would only personally recommend using The Biggie for a ski trip in the winter months. The Biggie has an indoor kitchen, sits 3 while sleeping two (could get away with three if traveling with a small child), and some come with a build in heater. Even though there is a heater, it still gets cold throughout the night.
A quick snapshot for The Biggie:
♦ Plenty of overhead storage and a large compartment under the bed. This compartment is only accessible from the outside. There are an additional 2 storage drawers inside perfect for clothing and dry foods.
♦ Convertible dining table
♦ Lighting system with several options ranging from dim to bright
♦ 150-watt solar panel with an inverter to charge any electronics
♦ Memory foam mattress, blanket, and two pillows
♦ All pots, pans, plates, cups, cutlery, and silverware. (3 of each) The van comes with a percolator as well for any coffee lovers.
♦ 7-gallon water tank and two-burner propane stove
Forget about boring meals and van life. A two-burner propane stove and mini-fridge allow for healthy home cooked meals on the road. The indoor kitchen is the best part of a van when doing a winter ski trip. This is a must item. An indoor kitchen will help you stay eating healthy and delicious food instead of eating out your entire trip. However, make sure to still enjoy some local coffee shops and breweries.
Is There a Bathroom?
The van does not have a bathroom built into the design. As of right now, none of their options consist of a bathroom, so plan accordingly. A bathroom would be helpful but can easily be done without one.
As for bathrooms, I would try to plan to use them before heading out of town centers. Camp grounds will have facilities. There are several options in Colorado staying open throughout the winter. If traveling to more rural areas to camp, than you will likely just have to go outdoors. Just plan to drink your water earlier in the evening, as heading outdoors in the middle of the night is not enjoyable!
Throughout the trip you must find places to take a shower. Showers can be bought at places such as community centers, gyms, public pools, or truck stops. There are other random places where a shower may be possible. I was able to take a shower when at a hot springs near the Great Sand Dunes National Park. There are several ways to find a place to take a shower. But between showers, as you most likely will not be able to every day, I used venture wipes to stay fresh.
Winter Packages: Plan a Van Ski Trip Without Worrying About the Weather
Worried about the weather? Try out their winter package.
The company has winter packages (only out of Denver) perfect for those renting in the colder months. The winter package includes tire chains, extra blankets, and a heater built into the van. A snow package can be a lifesaver.
When I was out near Breckenridge, I took Ivan the Terrible (name of one of the Biggie vans) on a snow-covered road on the mountain across from the ski area. Ivan, even with snow tires, had some trouble with the conditions. I ended up getting stuck and was unable to make it back up the hill from the way I came.
The road continued out of sight in the other direction. I decided to take a run. I ran down the street, probably about a mile, to determine if I would be able to make it with the van. Luckily, the other direction only had one hill which was much more gradual. Fortunately, I floored Ivan and was able to make it past without an issue.
However, the point of the story is road conditions can change quickly. Just down the road was nicely plowed. Towards the top the road became too narrow to turn around and less than ideal conditions. If you plan to adventure out a ways, the winter package is probably a safe decision to prevent any unplanned stays on the side of the road.
If you opt out of the winter packages, I recommend bringing additional gear like an extra sleeping bag, snow shovel, and insulated water bottles.
Should you get insurance?
In my opinion, yes. Personally, I rather just make sure I have coverage and not have to worry about anything. The van rentals have four different insurance options: no insurance, supplemental liability insurance, collision damage waiver, and full coverage. Although, the decision for insurance is up to you, I would at least get minimal protection. Each plan is outlined in more detail on their website.
For more information on the different rentals while you plan a van ski trip, check out Native Camper Vans.
Planning the Route for a Van Ski Trip
Planning your route can be a challenging task. The United States is a vast area, especially when planning a trip in the western portion of the country. A rough outline is a great starting point. Attempt to map out your top ski resorts or backcountry spots.
Avoid missing any of your must-see locations. Do enough research to know general outlines of travel time, areas to park your van, and important locations for supplies. However, leave enough room in your trip for spontaneous adventures. These moments can become your favorite memories from the trip.
Directions and Weather
Service will cut out. Remember to bring a paper or a predownloaded map on your phone to prevent getting too lost. Maps.me is a great app allowing for directions while out of service. Just make sure to download the area ahead of time. Keep in mind locations of Walmart, gas stations, and public land for areas to park. The most important part is you can never be too prepared!
While on your trip, it is important to monitor the weather. Van camping can become a problem with snow. Much of the public lands become unavailable as roads are either closed or not plowed. Keep this in mind when researching free spots to park. If bad weather is coming, it may be a solid choice to stay somewhere you know will be plowed out. Weather will play a large role in where it is safe to bring a van.
Food and Water in the Van
The van comes with a small fridge and freezer. There is plenty of room to stock up on enough food before heading out into a more rural location. I recommend always having a few days of food on hand just in case bad weather comes in or you get stuck in the middle of nowhere.
Water becomes valuable when living van life. As there is only a 7-gallon tank, use water mindfully. Most likely, the tank will just be used to cook, wash dishes, and clean up after a long day. In addition to the tank, keep some jugs of drinking water on hand. Also, you could use a water purification system or boil snow for safe drinking water.
Water will freeze. The sink needs to be drained when not in use. The water will freeze in the pipes when gone from the van for an extended period. The last thing you want is no running water. Just save yourself the hassle and drain when not in use.
Travel Packing List
For a complete travel packing list, check out Adventure Travel Packing List..
In addition to this list, make sure to grab all your winter and skiing gear. Airlines are relatively good about checking your ski bags for a cheap price. Since most airlines will allow for a ski bag and a boot bag to be checked together, it gives you plenty of room to pack additional winter gear. Just keep the weight under the limit.
Helpful Tips While You Plan a Van Ski Trip
♦ Avoid driving time over 6 hours in one day. Unless you are planning to take the entire day for driving. Stops along the drive will always add more time than anticipated.
♦ Bring a copy of the itinerary on your trip. Include important numbers, addresses, and locations of camp spots.
♦ GasBuddy is a great app for comparing gas prices in each area.
♦ Maps.Me is a great app where you can download a map while having service. Once out of service you can still search directions between locations.
♦ If hitting multiple national parks, grab a national park pass.
♦ Buy groceries from supermarkets. These stores will have the best prices. Make sure to create a list before going to prevent forgetting any of the necessities. Last minute stops at gas stations and convenience stores will hit the budget.
♦ Free Parking Spots: Check out Bureau of Land Management areas, large retail chains such as Walmart, and rest areas.
♦ Throughout my trip around Colorado, I stayed at a variety of locations. Always make sure to check out signs or online to avoid getting tickets. Here are some spots I stayed at while touring the state:
♦ National Parks during the off-season. I stayed at a pull-off in Black Canyon and the Great Sand Dunes National Parks without any issues. Of course, going during prime season may provide more difficulty.
♦ End of a side road near public land in Crested Butte
The Challenge to Plan a Van Ski Trip
Winter can be a rewarding time to experience van life. Although, this time can be filled with numerous challenges. One can expect to have difficulty with finding parking, cold temperatures, drying clothing, travel conditions, and van set-up.
In winter, much of the free and cheap camping spots are on unplowed roads. Restricted access due to road conditions will limit parking opportunities. You must come prepared and get creative at times. Always do research in advance to prevent getting tickets or being towed. Rough road conditions should be expected in the winter. Continuously check the weather to travel at the best times. If unavoidable, plan to give yourself plenty of time. Keep in mind this can add a significant amount of travel time to your route.
Cold Temperatures, Wet Gear, and Indoor Cooking
Cold temperatures provide a unique challenge with using sinks, showering, drying clothes, and the cooking situation. The sink in the van will freeze, so always run the water out of the line before turning off the pump. And showering is even more challenging than with warmer weather. In the summer, you can take outdoor showers and swim in rivers. However, these options are not possible in the winter. Plan to make stops to shower and use wipes in between to stay fresh.
Drying wet winter gear is not an easy task living van life. You are unlikely able to just throw it outside in the sun like during the summer months. Personally, I try to hang everything as soon as getting back to the van. In addition, if I plan to drive, I will take small items and place them right next to the vents. If available, grab a van with a heater for not only warmth but for the ability to dry gear.
Rent a van with a solid indoor cooking set-up. You will 100% not regret this decision while chasing pow in the van. Healthy and delicious food is relatively easy with a nice set-up. These vans are usually more expensive but worth every dollar.
The Conclusion: Is van life a considerable option for a ski trip?
Yes and no. I would highly recommend doing a van trip if you plan on going to multiple ski resorts, backcountry locations, and stopping by some beautiful national parks along the way. But if you plan to only hit one or two areas and stay in close proximity to popular ski towns, other options may suit your needs better.
If you do not mind roughing it a bit, a van is one of the best ways to explore the outdoors, especially in Colorado. A van is a perfect home to go between searching for powder, enjoying the charm of any mountain town, and taking an off day walking around a national park. A van can serve as a great home-base for any of your adventure plans.
However, if you do not love camping or plan to remain in just a handful of locations, I would suggest looking elsewhere. It will be a considerable challenge, if not impossible, to find places to park your van in ritzy mountain towns like Vail or Aspen. Therefore, if you are going to stay in ski towns like those, I would recommend against living in a van during your ski trip. I would rent a car or even just take a bus to the town and stay at an Airbnb.
Either way, I hope this has helped in your decision to plan a van ski trip!