As the world starts to open up following the pandemic, people are beginning to plan for the year ahead. Motorhome ski trips are becoming increasingly popular and may be even more so in a climate of social distancing. Here are some of our top tips and ideas about where to go if you are thinking about winter camping in an RV.
“You must be bonkers!” This was the typical response when we first said we were going to go on a ski trip in our motorhome. Perhaps we were, but several years later we are now seasoned motorhome skiers and love it. Our latest motorhome ski trip in the US took in fourteen resorts across three states and lasted two months. We stayed at some of the best ski resorts in the western USA. I have shared our route here and would highly recommend it. But what are the benefits of RV skiing and how can you the avoid problems? Where can you stay? How do you prevent freezing when faced with temperatures of -30 c? And what sort of preparation is required before embarking on a motorhome ski trip? As the world starts to open up following the pandemic, people are starting to plan for the year ahead. If you are thinking about a motorhome ski trip, read on!
Preparing the RV for winter camping
Temperatures in ski resorts can easily drop to -30 c at night. Motorhome skiing can be great fun, but you and your RV will freeze unless you plan and prepare.
We have a 28 foot Class C motorhome. It is not one of those huge, luxurious motor coaches or fifth wheels, but we manage perfectly well in this. Our windows in the habitation area are double glazed, but we still cover them with heat reflecting insulation at night. The windows in the front cab are not double glazed, of course, so in the winter, we close the cab off completely.
The pink insulation foam is easily available from any hardware store; the ply wood top is also easy to acquire and cut down to size. Someone suggested to me that this was too much if you move frequently, but I would say it takes less than one minute to remove the foam and ply wood and about as long to put it back. When travelling between resorts, we do not put it away properly; we just put it on the bed! We insulate around the slide with extra carpet and foam pieces to prevent drafts. When we first decided to try winter camping, we bought some cheap carpet from Home Base for the floors. This makes the hab (habitation space) very homely. We thought we would remove it in summer, but we don’t. Another potential weak point is the step and the door to the hab as this is not insulated very well.
We cover the step with pink foam and cover the door with the cushions which came with the RV for the beds over the cab (which we do not use). They fit perfectly, tuck neatly behind the grab handle and provide great insulation.
I worried initially that this would be an impediment if we had to get out quickly, but in fact it would be just a matter of pulling the cushions out of the way. We also have an escape window in the bedroom area of the motor home.
Water and waste tanks can present problems if you are not prepared. We have heated tanks and these are a must for winter camping. The heat pads come on when the temperature drops below 5c. In addition we have heat tape wrapped around all the water pipes. The pipes will freeze without this and it is no fun waking up in the morning to find you are without water and even less fun to find you have poopsicles and cannot empty the waste tank! All the lockers where there are valves and pipes have additional bubble-wrap insulation. It is absolutely essential to have an insulated and heat-taped hose if you are going to hook up to the city water. We made our own with foam pipe insulation and heat tape, but it is possible to purchase them ready made. The alternative is simply to fill the water tank and top it up as needed.
We have a propane furnace in the RV and this is very effective, but it is noisy and we do not run it unless we need a quick blast of heat, usually first thing in the morning. When we go motorhome skiing, however, we almost always have an electric hook up. This enables us to run an electric heater. Our choice is an oil filled radiator as we can leave this on over night without it making a noise. Some people swear by a heated mattress cover but we have never needed this. I do keep a hot water bottle though and find that this is sufficient to warm up the bed!
Choosing a ski pass: Epic or Ikon?
Multi-resort season passes are ideal for an RV ski trip and in the USA there are now two major ones from which to choose: the Epic Pass and the Ikon Pass. Both cover lots of different resorts across North America (and even some resorts other countries!) When planning a trip one of the first decisions to be made is which pass to buy. The best deals are to be had by purchasing before a cut off day in April as then the pass includes “buddy passes”. These provide cut price deals for friends and family. After April the buddy passes are not included, but the real deadline to watch out for is usually in September when the cost of the passes increases enormously.
Covid update: special arrangements are in place this year so that skiers can wait much longer before committing to the season pass and still get all the benefits which usually only come with early bird purchases.
There are also different levels of pass available: the full pass, which gives complete access to all resorts with no black out days, and the local or base pass which has some black out days (eg. President’s Day weekend) and some restrictions on certain resorts. For instance, on the Epic Local pass, skiing at Vail, Beaver Creek and Whistler is restricted to a total of 10 days.
So which pass to buy?
This depends very much on where your RV ski trip will take you. For our latest trip we bought both the Epic Local and the Ikon Base passes. This was perhaps rather extravagant, but there are resorts on the Ikon pass which we had never skied and really wanted to try. At the same time we were reluctant to give up on the opportunity to ski at some of our favourite resorts on the Epic Pass. It is worth noting that one day at many resorts can cost $200 and more, so buying the season pass makes absolute sense of you are going to ski more than 3 or 4 days. Next season, however, we will have to choose! Epic local is $729 for season 2020/21 and $699 for an Ikon Base (cheaper if this is a renewal) but check the latest prices on Epic and Ikon
The Motorhome Ski Trip: our route
This is the route we took on our last motorhome ski trip.
RV Ski Trip Stop #1: Tiger Run RV Resort, Breckenridge
The Tiger Run RV Resort is one of our favourite places to stay in winter. It is located about three miles from the gondola at Breckenridge and is fully winterised. Every site has an electric hook up and the water spigots are designed so that they will not freeze – although a heated, insulated hose is required if you hook up to your RV. There is a club house with a pool, fitness centre and two hot tubs. There are also social gatherings in the club house every week where ski adventures are shared and RV woes solved. We have made many friends there over the years. On non-ski days there are some great hiking trails in the area.
From Tiger Run we skied the following resorts:
Breck is on the Epic Pass and is a firm favourite, an absolutely fabulous mountain with something for everyone. Favourite run: Whale’s Tail and Peak 6 if there is fresh snow; anywhere on Peak 10 if there isn’t. Getting there: There is free parking on Airport Road and shuttle buses ferry people up to the gondola. There is pay parking next to the gondola and a new multi-storey parking lot is currently in the planning. There is a free bus which runs to the gondola every half hour from outside Tiger Run.
Vail is on the Epic Pass. It is difficult to beat the Vail back bowls and this remains my favourite resort. There is a vast range of terrain with wide open spaces, tree covered slopes, long groomers and a plethora of mogul fields. Favourite run: Sundown Bowl or most of the runs in Blue Sky Basin Getting there: The only downside to Vail is that parking is expensive ($30 dollars per day) and there is no free parking. Depending on traffic, it takes between half an hour and 45 minutes to Vail from Tiger Run.
Beaver Creek is another great resort with some really challenging terrain as well as some lovely, relaxed slopes. It is on the Epic Pass. Don’t miss the freshly baked cookies at the base every afternoon at 3.00 pm – they are free! Favourite run: the front side of Grouse Mountain, especially if there is fresh snow. I am also fond of Rose Bowl. Getting there: Parking is expensive if you park in the village, but Elk Lot and Bear Lot are $10 per day with a free shuttle up to the base area. Even better, parking at Arrowhead is free and just a short walk to the nearest lift. It is at the far end of the resort and the way back is along a slow ski road, but that is not really a hardship. It takes 45 minutes to an hour to drive to Beaver Creek.
Keystone is on the Epic Pass. It is a great resort with every kind of terrain you could wish for, although some of the runs have quite a long flat run-out at the end. Favourite run: anywhere over on the Outback side. Getting there: Keystone is easily accessed by the free bus service. It is on the Swan Flyer route and takes about half an hour from Tiger Run.There is extensive free parking in Keystone, although it is then a bit of a trog through village to the lifts. The free carts to pull the skis along make this rather more palatable though.
A Basin is now on the Ikon Pass although it used to be on Epic. A Basin is a fairly small resort and is regarded as one of the most challenging. The slopes are very steep and there are very few green slopes. The blue slopes in A Basin would be black in other resorts, in my opinion. When there is fresh snow though, there is no where better. Favourite run: anywhere in the Montezuma Bowl Getting there: A Basin is on the Swan Flyer Bus Route and is about 10 minutes further on than Keystone. Most of the parking at A Basin is free.
Copper Mountain is on the Ikon pass. We really liked Copper. There are some very long runs and no flat run out at the end as you find in some resorts. Favourite run: Triple Treat. This long run had good sized bumps when we were there and lots of loose snow. It was challenging, but not overly so. We also enjoyed Copper Bowl, although some rocks were showing through when we went. With a good fall of snow, this would be a fantastic bowl to ski. Getting there: Copper Mountain is just 15 miles from Tiger Run and accessible on free bus from the campsite, although it does require a change of buses in Frisco. We had a hire car, however, so opted to drive. There is free parking at Alpine lot and it is then just a short bus ride (free) to village and lifts. A major plus is that the buses are like airport buses and very easy to get on and off whilst carrying skis.
Winter Park is on the Ikon Pass. We only skied one day at Winter Park on this trip but loved it and will definitely return. I think we saw it at its best! It was a day of wall-to-wall sunshine and clear blue skies, but very cold. The snow was excellent and strangely, it was incredibly quiet! There were no lift lines and often we had the slopes to ourselves. Our favourite area was around the Panoramic Lift: long runs with well spaced trees and easy bumps. However, I am particularly proud that I skied down from the Eagle Wind lift, a steep area with close trees. I was out of my comfort zone as I am not comfortable in dense trees, but I managed this without too much difficulty. Getting there: It takes about an hour and 20 minutes to drive to Winter Park from Tiger Run. There is some easily accessible free parking (and some pay parking) and a cabriolet gondola to transfer skiers up to the base area. It is then a walk through the village area to the lifts, but there are carts on hand to help with the skis.
Aspen – a possible addition
We considered adding Aspen to our ski trip itinerary whilst we were at Tiger Run. It is on the Ikon Pass. However, it takes almost two hours to drive to Aspen from Tiger Run and we ran out of time on this trip so I have included it here as a possibility for the future. From what we have heard it is a fabulous resort and we shall make every effort to get there next time.
RV Ski Trip Stop #2: KOA Steamboat Springs
The next stop on our Motorhome Ski Trip was Steamboat Springs. It took about two hours to drive from Tiger Run to Steamboat and was a lovely scenic drive – although we did have beautiful weather. We stayed here for four nights and skied at Steamboat two days. (Our visit coincided with a black out day for President’s Day which trimmed our skiing for one day). The KOA Campsite is fully winterised so there are no issues with water or dumping and, of course, there is an electrical hook up.
We really enjoyed skiing at Steamboat. It is on the Ikon pass. The snow conditions were great when we were there and we had some fabulous skiing. There are a lot of trees which makes it very picturesque and provides the opportunity for glade skiing, if that is your thing. There are some very challenging slopes also! I had to take a deep breath when I found myself at the top of Chute No 1 and the only way was down! Favourite run: The Ridge from the top of Morningside Peak
Getting there: the KOA campsite is situated about a mile outside the town and at the opposite end to the ski resort, but the free shuttle bus comes right into the campsite and goes up to the gondola station. The bus even has racks for skis on the outside! It runs every ten minutes and takes about half an hour to get to the gondola station from the campsite. The benefit of not having to park makes this trip well worth it.
RV Ski Trip Stop #3: Mountain Valley RV Resort, Heber City, Utah
It is about 280 miles from Steamboat to Heber City and it took us about 5 hours to drive in the RV. The road was very easy, but again, we had great weather. The Mountain Valley RV Resort is a great site with good facilities – two outdoor hot tubs, private showers, two well-equipped laundry facilities etc. It is fully winterised. There is an RV park in Park City which is closer to the ski resorts but we like the Heber City park, as do most of the RV skiers we know. It takes about half an hour to drive up to Park City and Canyons, less to Deer Valley. We had a hire car.
From Heber City we skied the following resorts:
Canyons is on the Epic Pass. There is a lot of variety at Canyons – bumps, groomers, trees, pistes of every level. Favourite run: the runs off the Tombstone Express Getting there: it is an easy half hour drive to Canyons and there is plenty of free parking at the base. A cabriolet gondola transfers skiers up to the lift area.
Park City is also on the Epic Pass and is joined to Canyons by a gondola, making an enormous ski area. Again, there is great variety of skiing at Park City. Favourite run: Sundog from the top of McConnkey’s Getting there: it takes less than half an hour usually to get to Park City from Heber City. There is free parking very close to the lift area. This is one of the easiest resorts as far as parking is concerned.
Deer Valley is on the Ikon Pass. It was the first time we had skied at Deer Valley on this trip and we were very pleasantly surprised. I had assumed it was a small, family style resort and indeed, it appears to have excellent ski school and nursery facilities for children, but actually it is really quite extensive with some very challenging runs. There are lots of mogul fields and some steep slopes. Interestingly, snow boards are not allowed: Deer Valley is a skier only resort. Favourite run: the runs from the top of Bald Mountain, especially Orient Express and Paradise. Getting there: Deer Valley is the closest resort to Heber City, only about a fifteen minute drive. We parked at the Jordanelle parking lot (free) and a shuttle runs the short distance back and forth from there to the Jordanelle Express Gondola. Other parking is available by approaching from Park City.
Snowbird is on the Ikon pass and this trip was the first time we had skied there. We thoroughly enjoyed it. It is a challenging mountain with some very steep terrain and “hard core” skiing. Our favourite area: Mineral Basin, not least because it is in sunshine from early morning. Getting there: It takes about an hour to drive up to Snowbird from Heber City. The drive involves skirting around Salt Lake City so it would be possible to camp there if preferred, but we decided to just drive up from Heber. There is plenty of free parking at Snowbird and easy access to the lifts.
Alta is also on the Ikon pass. It is possible to ski over to Alta from Snowbird – so we did! As parking is so easy at Snowbird, we still parked over that side when our main goal was to ski Alta. Access to Alta is from the top of Mount Baldy and involves passing through a scanner which checks for the correct lift pass. Alta feels very different from Snowbird, despite the fact that the two resorts are adjacent. Perhaps one reason is that there are no snowboarders in Alta. Again, it has some challenging skiing and we really enjoyed it.
Ski Trip Stop #4: The Fireside Resort at Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Confession time: we had not originally intended to go to Jackson Hole on this trip. We had planned to go to Tahoe and ski Northstar and Heavenly. We had skied these before and I have written about that trip in Skiing in our Camper Van. This would also have been the opportunity to check out Squaw Valley, where we had not been. Squaw is on the Ikon Pass. However, the snow reports coming out of Tahoe were dreadful so we made the difficult decision to change plans and head up to Jackson Hole in Wyoming. So pleased we did! We stayed at the Fireside Resort in Jackson. The Fireside Resort is quite basic in the winter, but there are electric hook ups and there is water available in the park. However, there is no dump. Instead, guests are directed down to the Shell garage in the town which has a dump (for a fee). We knew this in advance so arrived with empty waste tanks and a full water tank. By using the camp showers we managed to avoid having to dump for the four nights we stayed. RV guests are not allowed to use the hot tub, which is reserved for cabin guests.
We loved Jackson Hole! It is a steep mountain with long runs and great bowl skiing as well as glades where the trees are wonderfully spaced. The tramcar ascends over 4,000 ft in 9 minutes and takes skiers to the very top of the mountain. A word of warning: the weather can be very different at the top from how it is at the base. On the second occasion we ventured up there we arrived to a howling gale and thick fog. Visibility was almost zero! However, the snow was great at this altitude and the conditions improved as soon as we started descending. The snow conditions were good when we were at Jackson Hole, but not fantastic. I would love to visit when there is a foot of fresh snow! We shall definitely return. Favourite Run: Rendezvous Bowl is probably my favourite run, but I also enjoyed Laramie Bowl Getting there: the Fireside Resort is approximately 3 miles from the ski slopes. A bus stops a couple of hundred yards from the entrance to the campsite. The cost of the bus varies depending on the time of day, but it is only a couple of dollars, I believe. Alternatively, there is free parking down at the transit station and a free shuttle up to the slopes. Free parking is also available at the Ranch Lot, provided that you have 3 or more people in the car. Otherwise it costs $15 during the week and $20 at the weekend. We were very lucky in that our neighbours at Fireside had their truck and invited us to drive up with them. (Even luckier that they proved to be great company and excellent skiers so we skied together every day we were there.) We parked in the Ranch Lot and there is then a free shuttle for the short ride up to the lifts. These run constantly. We never once had to wait. So there we have it: 14 ski hills over three States! An epic Motorhome Ski Trip. Roll on next year!