There's a stoke in the air!
Reports and images of the first snowfalls here in the states are trickling into our social feeds and there's a sturdy stoke in the air. Here at GoCode, we build off-grid ready rigs with 4-season boondocking use cases in mind. And with our favorite season upon us, we thought we'd provide the "go codes" to help you execute your best ski camping season yet in your van.
Is your rig ready to "send"?
Before you hit the road, it's important to make sure your rig is winter ready on paper and in practice. If you life in a climate where it gets cold, it doesn't hurt to log a few nights in the van before heading up mountain. Take the time to take note of energy consumption and think through gear choices. While your neighbors, friends and family might question your sanity, there aint no shame in a little driveway shakedown.
Have an honest conversation with your "DIY self" or your builder about your winter use case needs. Are you confident in your van keeping you comfortable in extreme conditions? Most vans have wall, ceiling, and floor insulation values that range between R3 and R5. What this means is that even if you've made good decisions about insulation, staying warm in a van is a brute-force operation in heating. If you are like most, you are probably running an Espar or Webasto heater. Make sure it is in good operational condition and that you've been running it through the off-season at least 30 minutes per month. If you are interested in having someone else declare it to be in good working order or conduct preventative maintenance, consider ThermoKing. They have a national network and are an Espar service partner. Also, consider the high-altitude kit for your heaters if you plan to operate at elevations above 7500ft. The Espar heaters we use in our vans consume about a gallon every 12-16 hours. If you are planning an extended stay, you might want to consider running with a larger fuel tank or bringing along additional fuel reserves. Remember to test your carbon monoxide and smoke detector regularly, and run a roof vent whenever the heat is on to decrease condensation and circulate air.
Because we leverage both external and internal tanks in our vans at GoCode, we winterize the exterior tanks and depend on 12V heating pads on our internal tanks. Even if you are constantly heating your van, most of the plumbing is within a few inches of the exterior of the van. And even the best thermal breaks will make it hard to keep pipes from freezing in extreme temperatures. So we're cautious about when we are moving water through the system in the winter and making sure pipes are blown out before entering cold climates. This being said, many of our customers run in "dry mode" in the winter to eliminate the risk of frozen pipes, pumps and mechanicals. "Dry mode" for us means emptying your tanks and blowing out your pipes and rolling with a few 2 or 5 gallon jugs that we can refill using potable water at dump stations, or filtered water stations often found in grocery stores. They are a perfect size for tucking away and even fit in our our sink pod in our GoCode vans. For personal hygiene, we carry lots of hand sanitizer and are big fans of the Geyser System for fast, compact, off-grid "sponge" showers. More on them here: https://youtu.be/UVtF1eMYGaY
Don't forget about insulated curtains. We're big fans of Adventure Van Company's insulating curtains that work great for all seasons: https://diyadventurevanco.com/collections/2019-mercedes-sprinter-insulating-curtains'.
Do you have enough energy for your winter use cases and how do your van's house batteries like winter? While the biggest consumer of energy in our vans (Dometic 12V AC) is idle in the winter, battery replenishment and performance is not at its best in the winter months. Temperatures below the 32F mark will reduce both efficiency and usable capacity of lead-acid noticeably, providing 70-80% of its rated capacity. Moreover, the internal resistance of all batteries rises when cold, prolonging charge times noticeably. This also affects discharge performance noticeably with Li-ion. Consumer-grade lithium-ion batteries cannot be charged below 0°C (32°F). When my van is at home, I try to keep it shoreline'd for this reason.
Also worth Solar panels generally produce about 40-60% less energy during the months of December and January than they do during the months of July and August. This means that solar power generation is significantly less during the winter than it is during the summer. Don't hesitate to reach out to us with any questions you have on typical house battery energy consumption in winter months for ski resort lot use cases. At GoCode, we partner with Jesse at ValleyHi for all of our energy systems. Should you be looking for more detail on how to get through winter with the property van energy system, don't hesitate to reach out with your questions.
How's your grip?
We run all-terrain T/A KO2 tires on our vans for go-anywhere traction along with outstanding durability, great wear, and year-round traction, even in snow. We also carry recovery boards and self-recovery equipment for our winter pursuits. Be honest with your skill level when it comes to operating a van in these conditions and take the time to educate yourself on traction boards and self-recovery before heading into any dicey situations. Also note that if you are driving a 4WD Sprinter, you will want to be in 4WD before it is obvious that you need to be in 4WD. Engaging 4WD on a 4WD Sprinter is about a process as involved as German engineering could make it. For those unfamiliar with the process, here is a link: https://sprintervanusa.com/2016/08/25/four-wheel-drive-in-a-sprinter/
Have a Plan B
Remember that things fail and the best plans have a plan B. Just ask my son and nephew about their night in a van on a -14F night in Steamboat a few years back when our Espar started throwing error codes. Having the proper sleeping bags and tossing on a few more layers got us through what would have otherwise been a very difficult situation. So, don't forget the basics. Vans can be a great experience no matter what the season and with proper planning, you can make sure that your winter trip is one of the best trips yet!
Does your resort/ski area event want your van?
Boondocking at ski resorts is a great way to enjoy the winter season without spending a lot of money on lodging. Generally speaking, most resorts and ski areas aren't boondock-friendly. Nationally, the list of boondocking friendly ski resorts includes around 40 total resorts. It's always best to check with the resort beforehand to make sure. Some resorts require a permit, some use envelopes in a drop-box, and others just ask for a "heads up". Some offer 30A hookups and an outhouse, others just a section of the general use lot. Resorts that are ready for you will be snowplowed accordingly. If you aren't sure about plowing protocols, it's best to have your rig in 4WD. Consider backing in. Carry traction boards. If your targeted resort doesn't offer overnight accommodations, consider checking with HarvestHosts.com to see what's around. For example, Jackson Hole isn't on the list below but Melvin Brewing down the road in Alpine, WY is a fantastic place to grab a meal and beer and overnight in their by lot.
What's It Like Out There
Our take-aways and cheat codes from where we've taken vans or where we're headed with compiled research.
The Summit at Snoqualmie Ski Resort, Snoqualmie Pass: For Seattle natives, skiing at the Pass was a right of passage that usually entailed putting your boots on in the rain and trudging through mud to get to a lift line. The Pass is broken up into four ski areas. Proximity (50 minutes from Seattle) is one of the few things the resorts at the Pass have going. The one exception would be Alpental area which is a curious place teaming with local-legends and rowdy in-bounds and out-of-bounds terrain. Overnight parking is allowed at Alpentaland Summit Central lots. You are only allowed to stay one night and must arrive after 4 pm and leave by 8 am. You can pay for parking at the automated machines in each lot - make sure you get a receipt to put on your dash. The lots closest to the lifts will be full on weekends so if you're looking for a prime spot, aim for a weekday. If you have a four-wheel drive van, you can park for free in the "Overflow Parking" lot but it will add an extra mile to your walk.
Overnight parking is allowed in the White Salmon and Heather Meadows lots and reservations are required. Mt. Baker is a remote area and these overnight parking sites are "primitive" with no hookups, so all overnight parking rigs must be self-contained. It pukes at Baker. More than anywhere else in North America. There is one road to Baker. There are zero accommodations on the mountain. And Baker is home to devoted faithful. These realities combine to create one hell of a parking lot scene. Baker's devout arrive early to score a spot in the lot closest to the lifts. Some sleep in their cars overnight to make sure they're first in line when the parking lot opens at 7am. On weekends, if you're not one of the first 30 or so vehicles in line when the lot opens, you're out of luck. You'll have to park in the "B" lot, which is a 20-minute walk from the lifts. But for those who make the trek, parking at Baker has its advantages. It's free. And it gives you a chance to meet some of the most interesting people on the planet - people who are passionate about Baker. If you are looking for a spot to boondock down at sea level in Bellingham, look no further than the city's own Whatcom Falls Park. This beautiful little park has over 80 campsites, all of which are first-come, first-served. And since it's right in town, you'll have easy access to all the amenities Bellingham has to offer. If you're looking for a little more solitude, head up to the Mt. Baker National Forest. There are plenty of dispersed camping opportunities here, which means you can camp pretty much anywhere you want - as long as you follow Leave No Trace principles. Just make sure to get a wilderness permit before heading in. Here is one of our favorite Baker stoke videos that perfectly captures the good life that is Baker: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8OLuHWaH4w
Crystal Mountain Resort, B-Lot. Enumclaw, WA.
The B-Lot at Cryatal is legendary for good reason. Crystal Mountain is home to 2500 skiable acres and fantastic conditions when you time it right. Crystal happens to be at the end of the road with no through-access and very few overnight accommodations. Its parking lot will accommodate a fraction of the Ikon pass holders spewing out of Seattle and bound for the goods. Nabbing a B-Lot spot allows one to avoid the up-and-down daily ritual that most skiers have to endure.
The B-Lot has it's own local culture with families and solo artists that have been posting up there for decades. It's on the mountain side of the parking complex and a short walk to the lifts. The Snorting Elk is the best ski bar in North America (there we said it) and should be a part of any overnight at Crystal.
B-Lot spots must be booked on Roverpass.com. They go fast. The spots have either 30A or 50A hookups. There are porta-potties in the B-Lot.
Silver Mountain Resort in Kellogg, ID Silver is a ski resort known for, well, being close to Spokane and on the road to Big Sky. Our use case for Silver was a place to overnight on the road to Big Sky after coming off a day skiing at Alpental (see above). The mountain has some great terrain off the Gondola and some good tree skiing. The backside of the resort can be accessed by a short shuttle ride. It's a great place to stay if you're passing through the area and need a place to boondock. The resort allows overnight parking in its day lot and uses an honor box. No hookups. No port-o-lets. Plan to be fully self-supported. We spent a very quiet Wednesday night at Silver and were met with little company. I'm sure weekends are different.
Big Sky Levinsky Lot - While this isn't an official overnight lot, it's widely use during non-peak times. I may or may not have traded goods with school teachers from Maine that were running their classes from Zoom (and selling maple syrup) from this parking lot during the Spring of 2021. No hookups. No port-o-lets. Plan to be fully self-supported.
While at Big Sky, be sure to check out the Mi Pueblito Taco Bus on Lone Mountain Trail. http://ordermipueblitotacobus.com/
Bogus Basin Ski Area, Horsehoe Bend, ID. We love a good independent, non-for-profit resort. Bogus is a 45 minute drive from Boise and has some of the more affordable skiing in the west. And that value priced tickets get you access to 2,600 acres with 1,800 feet of vertical! Campers are fine in all of the parking lots at Bogus Basin with the exception of the main lot. If you are going to camp, the resort asks that you park beyond the tubing hill. Plan to be fully self-supported but you may have cell service for Zoom calls.
Hoodoo Ski Resort, Sisters, OR Skiing in Central Oregon is usually associated with Mt. Bachelor. But only 45 miles and approximately an hour northwest from Bend on Highway 20 is Hoodoo Ski Area. Hoodoo sits in the Willamette National Forest at the top of Highway 20’s Santiam Pass. Reservations are required. Sites for Friday and Saturday nights are booked pretty solid. Weeknights seemed to stay wide open. There is a waitlist option if your desired date is unavailable when you go to make your reservation online. https://skihoodoo.com/rates/rv-rates/
Electric and non-electric sites are available. There are no water and sewer hookups, no on-site dump station, and no place to dump trash. Pack it out! Expect to pay $20 plus tax for a non-electric site and $40 for a hookup site.
Mountain stats: Skiable terrain: 800 acres | Vertical drop: 1,035 feet |Average annual snowfall: 450 inches. Hoodoo's parking lot has reliable AT&T and Verizon service without using a cellular signal booster. Streaming entertainment and online video calls from tethered cellular shouldn't be a problem.
Grand Targhee Resort, Alta
Grand Targhee Resort offers AND PROMOTES on-site camping so you can get a jump on your adventure-filled mornings! Campsites are conveniently located in the back of Lot 2, within walking distance to all resort activities and amenities. Midweek pricing is $30 and weekend and holiday dates and pricing are $40. Worth noting:
- Maximum number of persons may not exceed 6, and the maximum number of vehicles may not exceed 1 per space.
- Camping permits must be hung from your rear-view mirror, taped to the windshield or tent – it must be visible at all times.
- Bathroom services are available in the Rendezvous Lodge from 7:00am – 7:00pm.
- No showers, electrical, water, or waste hook-ups are available. Pack out everything you packed in; trash, recycling, wastewater, sewage.
More rules and details are detailed here: https://www.grandtarghee.com/plan-your-trip/lodging-options/winter-camping
Mission Ridge, Wenatchee
Vibe: Throwback. 2000 acres. 2250 ft of vert. Part of the Powder Alliance and Indy Pass.
Mission has both fee spots at $20 that are able to be reserved and free spots that are limited and first come first serve. Arrive early and avoid busy weekends if you are wanting a free space as it is limited. Mission Ridge's overnight parking policy is here.
Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort, Bend
Mt. Bachelor offers a variety of overnight parking options, including powered hook-up sites. Overnight RV parking during Mt. Bachelor's 2022/23 winter season is offered from November 25, 2022 through May 28, 2023. Winter RV Camping Reservations will be open on November 15, 2022. All overnight parking / RV camping must be reserved and paid online in advance — your RV confirmation will give you access to the lot for the evening. Check-in is required and begins each night after 5:00 p.m.; check-out is by 4:00 p.m. on the last day of your reservation. There is a 2-night minimum required for reservations that include a Saturday night booking. Weekday prices are $65 (powered) and $45 (non-powered). Weekend prices are $75 (powered) and $50 (non-powered).
We have yet to take a van East but it's part of the plan for the 2022/23 season and we will be blogging about boon-docking at east coast resorts in an upcoming post.
See you out there
Boondocking at ski resorts can be an incredible way to save money, get out and enjoy nature, and meet some cool people. With the right planning, it's easy to find safe and secure spots for overnight stays. Be sure to have confidence in your van's winter readiness as well as read up on each location’s rules and regulations before you arrive so that everyone can have a good time. See you out there!