….well not actually skiing in our campervan! We use our campervan (commonly referred to as an RV – recreational vehicle – and sometimes as a motorhome) to tour ski resorts in the US and Canada. In this post, I outline some of the places we have been on our RV ski trips and the RV Parks in which we have stayed, as well as offering some hints and tips for camping in sub-zero temperatures. RV skiing is great fun, but it is really important to be well prepared to get the most from it.
A little background
Peter started skiing as a teenager in Scotland; I did not start until I was in my 40s, but I loved it from the start. We both made progress over the years, going away once or twice most years, but our skiing really came on when we moved to Canada and lived close to a ski resort (Big White). For the first time, we had season passes.
Multi-resort Season Passes are perfect for RV skiing
For the last three years, we have purchased the Vail Resorts Epic Pass in the US (although the pass can also be used in other countries where a reciprocal arrangement exists). This gives us access to many resorts in the US and latterly, Whistler in Canada. RV skiing allows us to make great use of the multi-resort season pass.
There are different versions of the pass: the “full fat” version which gives unlimited access to all the resorts; and the local version which gives access to all the resorts, but limits access to Vail, Beaver Creek and Whistler; it also has some black-out days such as Christmas Day and President’s Day.
There is a new pass on the market called the Ikon Pass, which covers different resorts from those covered by the Epic.
Update December 2019: We decided to really splash out for this season and have bought both the Ikon Pass and the Epic Pass! Stand by for a mega ski season and lots of tips about using both passes.
Top Tip: the best deals on both the Epic and the Ikon are to be had by purchasing well in advance. Buy in April, pay in September is the best deal. After September, the price goes up – a lot!
So where have we been on our RV skiing trips?
The Epic Pass covers four resorts in Colorado: Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone. Until the 2019 season it also covered Arapahoe Basin, but it was removed for 2020 and A Basin is now available on the Ikon Pass.
There is only one campsite that is set up for winter camping within easy reach of these resorts and this is the Tiger Run Resort which is near Breckenridge. This is a wonderful resort and great for RV skiing. There are hard-standing sites for RVs and also a number of chalets, many of which are available to rent. All the RV sites have electricity (essential for winter camping) and a water connection which is set up not to freeze (although you do have to be very careful with your own connection to your RV, more of which later). There is also a club house which has a pool, games room, laundry and two fabulous hot tubs! We have stayed at Tiger Run several times now. There is quite a community if you choose to join it, with social evenings and gatherings for events like the Super Bowl. The free bus stops right outside the campsite and it is easy to use this to access Breckenridge. It drops you off right at the gondola! The bus can also be used to get to Keystone and A Basin. Although you have to change in Frisco just down the road, it is also possible to use the free bus to reach Copper Mountain. (Note: Copper Mountain is not on the Epic Pass but is on the Ikon Pass.)
Top Tip: if you are in a motor home and do not have additional transport, ask for a site near the entrance to the Tiger Run Resort. It is quite a big park and although the shuttle bus stops right outside, walking up there in ski boots and carrying skis is no mean feat if you are at the far end of the park.
Breck, as it is affectionately called by the regulars, is a wonderful ski resort with a lot of variety in the terrain. Our favourite areas are Peak 6 (lovely hill with well-spaced trees, much of it ungroomed) and Peak 10 (mainly black runs, but they are groomed so fairly straightforward). Breck boasts some of the highest skiing in North America. The resort itself is very high and it takes me a few days to acclimatise to the altitude.
The town is characterful and there are some great bars and restaurants, not to mention a distillery and a brewery! We have also been lucky enough to see the snow sculpture festival each year.
The free bus goes to Keystone also, but takes a little longer than it does to get to Breck. There is a walk from the bus stop or the free car park to the main gondola, but red carts (also free) are provided for you to pull your skis along. The skiing is great, possibly a little more challenging than Breck.
The free bus also goes to Arapahoe Basin. The resort is smaller, but it has a reputation for being more challenging and there is some great skiing here. The blue runs in A Basin are like black runs anywhere else.
My absolute favourite! We skied Vail for several years on our annual skiing vacation before we ever tried RV skiing and fell in love with it. It is an enormous area with an incredible variety of terrain. There is something for everyone here. My favourite area is Blue Sky Basin, but I also like the area around the Two Elk Lodge. Blue Ox is a great run, and High Line is the hardest run in the world ( – according to me!). It is a wall of moguls, very steep and very long. I have done it twice in my life, both times when the conditions were perfect!
Parking is available either at Lionhead or Vail village, but it is expensive ($30.00 per day). I have noticed people parking at on the road at West Vail and presumably they catch the bus in to the centre.
This is a lovely resort, rather more “manicured” than the others, but with some great ski areas. Grouse Mountain is my favourite but I am also fond of the slopes down into the Rose Bowl. They hand out hot chocolate (with cream) at the top of one of the lifts each morning and every afternoon, freshly baked cookies are served up by chefs in full whites at the bottom of the slopes. They are absolutely delicious! An added attraction is the “glow worm” which takes place once a week. Children, accompanied by a parent, ski down the slope when it is dark carrying glow sticks. Quite a spectacle!
Top Tip: Parking in Beaver Creek can be expensive if you park in the village parking lot. Alternatively, head for the Elk Lot or the Bear Lot and catch the free shuttle. It still costs $10, but that is quite a saving. Even better is parking at Arrowhead. This is free and it is just a short walk to the lift from the parking lot. The only issue (minor issue in my opinion) is that you then have to ski back down to Arrowhead at the end of the day and it is quite a long way from the centre.
Update March 2019: we discovered this year that hot chocolate is no longer handed out at Beaver Creek. Shame! But the cookies are still there!
There is a winter campsite in Park City for RV skiing, but it books up very quickly and when we tried to book several months in advance, we were not able to get a reservation. We did, however, get a site at the Mountain Valley RV Resort in Heber City about 20 miles away. This is a lovely park – clean, quiet, well-appointed, but it did mean that we had to hire a car in order to access the slopes. In the event this was not really an issue and parking at Park City was very easy: right at the foot of the slopes and free!
Park City and Canyons are two resorts connected together, making an enormous ski area. The skiing is great, but from a personal point of view, the area is not as characterful as the other resorts we have skied.
It was my first time skiing in Tahoe in February 2017. It will go down as one of my all-time favourites. The snow in this season in Tahoe was superb and there was lots of it. We also had mainly blue sky days, with a fresh fall of snow at night. People who ski there on a regular basis told us that this was the best year in Tahoe that they could recall. I think we were very lucky, but I also suspect that the skiing is pretty good most years.
For our RV skiing this time we stayed in Truckee at the Coachland RV Park and mainly skied at North Star which was about three or four miles away. The site was good and the staff very friendly and helpful. Our usual problem of accessing the slopes was solved by hiring an “Uber” driver for several days. When he went on vacation, we hired a car, which also gave us the opportunity to ski at Heavenly, about an hour’s drive away.
We loved North Star. There is some challenging skiing and there are also lots of cruisey blues if that is what you prefer. An added bonus is that, every afternoon, free champagne is served up on one of the ridges!
Heavenly was also excellent skiing and we enjoyed our day there very much, although it was decidedly busier than North Star.
As well as North Star and Heavenly, the Epic Pass covers Kirkwood in California. However, that is a much longer drive and we have not yet been there.
Vail Resorts bought Whistler Blackcomb in 2016 and we have since skied there twice using the Epic Pass. Each year was a very different experience. In 2017, the weather was not good, visibility was poor and the slopes were icy (and very busy). In 2018 we had fabulous weather and great snow! The skiing was excellent. This is a vast ski area with some incredibly long runs and we really appreciated last time just how much variety there is here.
On both occasions we stayed at the Riverside RV Park. It is only about a 7/8 minute drive to the main lift/gondola area from the site, but it is too far to walk with skis. The first year we were there, the campsite operated a free shuttle to the slopes. This was fantastic. If you wanted to return before the scheduled shuttle, it was easy to catch the local bus. It was then a ten/fifteen minute walk from the bus stop. Last year, however, when we arrived and much to our disappointment, the shuttle bus had been discontinued. We decided to book a taxi, but they do not take bookings: you call when you are ready and wait. On one occasion the wait was 45 mins. The buses are good and quite frequent, but it is a significant walk to the bus stop, especially if you are walking both ways. Unlike Colorado, the buses cost: in 2018 it was $5.00 each per round trip.
The campsite itself is good and it is well located with lots of excellent walking trails close by. It is easy to walk into town (once you have ditched the ski boots!) and Whistler itself is a great town with a lively vibe.
Coping with the challenges of winter camping and RV skiing
At night in Colorado, the temperature can easily drop to -30 C. That is cold by anyone’s standards. The main challenge of RV skiing, therefore, is keeping warm and stopping the van from freezing.
Our camper is built to Canadian spec: it is well insulated, has double glazed windows and heated tanks. That is a good start, but it is not enough.
There are going to be cold spots in the van. The first year we tried went on an RV ski trip, I used the footwells in the cab and the step to the habitation door (both of which have to be closed off) as storage. Everything froze – the potatoes, the onions, the beer….Lesson learned. The windows in the cab area are not double glazed so you have to insulate this area from the main body of the van. The first year we used a special curtain, along with the spare bed cushions which we were not using and this actually worked fine. Last year, Peter put in some insulation boards to make a more substantial barrier. I think this was perhaps more effective, but it did mean that access to the cab area was not as easy. We also cover the windows in the cab with special reflective insulation sheets both inside and out.
The door and the step area are not as well insulated and at night we tend to close the step off with an insulation board and cover the door with one of the spare bed cushions (it fits very well there, as if it was made for the purpose). I should add here that we do have an escape window in the bedroom area of the van, so if we needed to get out quickly, we do have an alternative route.
At night, we also cover the double-glazed windows in the main body of the van with the reflective insulation. Peter cut the pieces to size so they fit perfectly. In anticipation of winter camping, we carpeted the floor of the van. We use small pieces and strips of spare carpet as draft excluders around the slide.
Top Tip: for ideas on storage and organising your RV ready for any road trip, check out Caravan Hacks and Modifications by MyRig Adventures
With the heating (we run a small oil filled radiator and have an effective furnace in the van), the inside is always warm. Yes, I do wear a cardigan indoors, but as someone who hates being cold, I can honestly say that the van is snug and warm.
The main challenge at low temperatures is water.
We have had several frozen pipes. Fortunately, they are plastic and have some give, but we have been lucky not to have anything burst. We now do everything we can to prevent them freezing.
Top Tip: don’t forget to bring a hair drier. You may need this to help thaw any frozen pipes!
- The water pipe leading to the van from the outside tap (spigot) requires care. This is actually quite easy: you just need a heated pipe. You can buy them or make one up as we did using heat tape and foam insulation tubing, both readily available from the Home Depot, Lowes or another hardware store. It is important to make sure that the connection to the actual tap is covered by the heat tape. The alternative is to simply fill the water tank and not have a permanent hook up to the tap, just refilling when needed.
- The pipes inside and underneath the floor of the van may need heat tape also and we have quite a lot of it around known cold spots. We also have extra insulation in different parts of the van, such as some of the storage cupboards outside where the pipes are sited.
- We struggled most with the hot water pipe leading to the bathroom under the floor and this froze several times until Peter managed to gain access to apply some heat tape. In the meantime, we followed the “slow drip” advice: just leave the tap on a very slow drip overnight and it will stop the pipe from freezing.
- Care also needs to be taken with the sewage pipe from the camper. This must be completely emptied when you drain – unless you want to deal with “poopsicles”!
It helps with the internal pipes if you leave the furnace running over night, but we find the noise of it clicking on and off is disturbing so we tend to have the thermostat set very low to avoid this. In the first year, we used a space heater at night. The constant hum of the space heater in the dining area was much less obtrusive and we could barely hear it in bed, but it did not get to the pipes in the fabric of the van quite so effectively, hence the heat tape. We now have the oil filled radiator and this is silent.
You can find more detail about how we insulate our RV and photos by following the link to the post RV Ski Tripping!
So there we have it: an RV ski trip is great fun and is perfectly possible with just a little bit of forethought. Enjoy!
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