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Gypsy ski bumming

post #1 of 20
Thread Starter 

Some years ago I made a promise to my younger self that I'd spend a season as a ski bum at least once before I turn 40.  So now with 40 quickly approaching, I've been kicking around possibilities.  I'm based out of the SF, CA area.  At the moment, I have this idea of getting a 4x4 fitted out for winter camping and cruising up the west coast into BC, down around to Jackson Hole, etc. etc. and back.  Spend some time chasing storms, seeing the countryside and going wherever.  


I'm absolutely certain I'm not the first person with this notion, but I haven't yet come across many reports.  My first question hinges less upon where to go, but more upon how to pull it off.  I've looked at bit at Westie Synchro's, Sportmobiles, 4x4 trucks with campers, etc.  Seems there aren't a ton of Syncrho's out there and a 4x4 with nice camper could fit the bill.  On the other hand, I have the impression that some would just say to get a Subie and stay in motels mainly.


I like the idea of being self-sufficient with my own camper arrangement, etc.  Never any hassle for lodging, can go remote and still have a place to stay, etc. etc.  Beyond that, the camper setup would be good for years to come.  So I'm wondering, have others pulled this off with good success?  Is it a setup that makes good sense?  Any recommendations on specifics (vehicles, camper shells, etc.)?





Mod note: moved to General Skiing

post #2 of 20
@DanoT to the courtesy phone.
post #3 of 20

I would say those motels will eat up your funds fairly quickly, which if being on a limited budget could be offset by camping. I have seen some cozy Honda Element conversions with nice beds in the back (storage underneath), plus a skylight for nighttime viewing. With snow tires, it will be a beast on any snowy road you can throw at it. You will need a heater. Good luck, I like the way you are thinking. Post updates.

post #4 of 20
Thread Starter 

Agreed.  I'll look into the Element conversion.  Basically, I suppose my ideal would be a full on RV setup - but that isn't suited to safe snow travel.  If I'm going to be underway for a while - I'm thinking a mini fridge, cook top, ideally a nook to hang out in, etc.  The more space, the better.  I'm willing to put some money into a good setup that will last for some years.  Just makes more sense to me than sinking money into motel costs, which you never get back.  At least with a vehicle, I should be able to sell and recoup much of the investment a few years down the road.  Plus, not being tethered to having to find motels all the time, etc. seems to have its advantages - I can imagine places where motels may not be nearby where you want to be, or pricey.

post #5 of 20
I guess DanoT is on the road, not surprising. I think one of the issues is where you are allowed to park. You might search for "RV" and "DanoT" for some of his older posts.
post #6 of 20
post #7 of 20

MB Sprinter, 4x4 /thread
post #8 of 20

If you want to research vehicle based adventure go here:



post #9 of 20

RVing in winter can be tricky and although I have a lot of experience driving on snowy roads I would not look forward to driving a 15,000lb and up 2wd motor home in a storm on twisty mountain roads and high passes.


A 4x4 pickup truck camper with winter tires, air bag suspension upgrade and chains when needed is the way I roll. My camper is a custom Phoenix pop-up roof camper designed by me for ski area camping and built in Denver by Coyote RV. The soft fabric wall section has an arctic package which consists of 2 layers of a thinsulate knock off sandwiched between 2 layers of vinyl fabric. When the roof is lowered it creates a lower centre of gravity for better handling especially is strong cross winds.


I don't run my water system in winter. I carry 2 gallon containers of water and use a primitive shower called a Hot Jugz (If you google it you will get their website plus porn sites) Basically the shower is a 2 gallon pump-up garden sprayer with a low flow shower head and a pressure release valve. Just heat up water on the stove and and take a shower with 2 gallons of water.


I have a 16,000 BTU propane furnace that pumps out lots of heat and has a fan that can draw down the batteries very quickly so I also have a 2000 watt Honda generator than puts out 1600 watts continuous. When charging the camper batteries I turn off the propane furnace (otherwise the furnace fan will draw down the batt almost as fast as it gets charged) and I run a 1000 watt electric space heater, charge computer and cell phone batteries as well and power ski boot dryers.


The camper has several other winter use features and cost $16,000 to have built in 2011. So if you want to be self contained and comfortable on the road in frigid temperatures it is not cheap. Motels might be cheaper.


Also check out a site called Wander the West.


I Hope this helps.

post #10 of 20
Originally Posted by sibhusky View Post

I think one of the issues is where you are allowed to park.

That's the issue you'll encounter at most US resorts, Canada's a little more RV friendly.
I'd look for a stealth camper van/element and just supplement that with motel stays every couple of days.
Get an Mountain Collective Pass.
post #11 of 20

I'm in the middle of a 9 week ski trip.  It is true that accommodations are your biggest cost factor.  I chose the motel approach and so far after about 22 nights my most expensive motel was a La Quinta I spontaneously stopped at in Golden CO, late on my first night in CO at about $75 including tax.  I am a big fan of priceline.com express deals and normally always avoid "spontaneous" check-ins at random motels, but that night I couldn't avoid it.  But beyond priceline I also surfed the web before my trip for really low budget/non chain motels and I have been able to stay 5 miles from Vail for two weeks at $50 per night in a tiny old, motel room, and 3 nights in Park City two blocks from Payday chairlift for $40 per night in a dorm/bunkhouse section of a traditional lodge.  My best deal was a very nice Quality Inn Suite in Glenwood springs for $36 one night off priceline.  Add about 10% tax to all prices I just mentioned.  So, I suppose I am averaging about $60 per night.  I spoke to an older couple at The Canyons that was RVing for the winter there.  I joked that this winter has been so mild that it's a good one to live in an RV.  If you do the camper/RV approach I suppose you could always stay in a motel from time to time if it gets really cold.  Either approach you can also factor in couch surfing opportunities or exploiting family/friends housing, which is what I am currently doing in Cali.  My wife is joining me for the month of March (30 day rental avoids motel tax) in Summit County, CO and we've got a nice, two bedroom condo/townhouse with garage there that cost $3500 including everything.  Additional family members and friends will be joining us there periodically.  As you can imagine it gets old living out of a suit case, so I'm looking forward to the stable, condo segment of my trip.

post #12 of 20

Thanks DanoT, definitely helps.


After more research, I find myself leaning strongly towards a setup like you have:  4x4 truck camper with pop-up top for handling.  I'm thinking long-term and willing to drop $20k for the right camper.  Goal is to be all set by next season.  Aside from cost, some folks mention the downside of it not being stealthy like a van setup.  I don't have any experience as to how significant this factor is, but my sense is that the extra comfort of a truck camper would trump the advantage of a low profile van/Element setup for me.  What's your experience on this front, in regards to finding a place to park it?


My aim is to access quality ski terrain vs. hitting major resorts.  Sure, I'll likely make a stop at Whistler, Jackson Hole and some UT resorts.  Other than that, I'm pretty happy to simply go where the skiing is good - with plenty of stops through Canada.  As a point of reference, I'm based in the bay area and have skied Kirkwood exclusively for the past several years.  Although Squaw is great and I enjoy Alpine, Sugar Bowl and Sierra - I prefer to do a ski lease and stick to Kirkwood where there is great terrain, the snow tends to be deeper and shorter lift lines.


Also - any other suggestions on quality campers?  I've looked into Alaskan (hard to find), Okanagan, Arctic Fox and North Star. 

post #13 of 20
Look to Tahoe for answers to your parking questions. Anytime you see a camper, ask.
I'm pretty sure Kirkwood used to allow campers, but VR doesn't.
post #14 of 20
Originally Posted by SHREDHEAD View Post

Look to Tahoe for answers to your parking questions. Anytime you see a camper, ask.
I'm pretty sure Kirkwood used to allow campers, but VR doesn't.

Kirkwood used to have a RV parking lot with no services for about $25.


Now that Vail Resorts owns Kirkwood, no overnight RV parking is allowed.


If the ski area itself doesn't allow Rvs then I usually find a business in a nearby town that has its own lot and pull in after they close and leave in the morning before they open.


Most grocery stores and most Walmarts allow RVs.


I also find that it is better to apologize after the fact then it is to ask permission to park and get told NO.


As far as stealth mode, I can drop the top and sleep on the couch if need be.


Right now I am skiing Aspen and staying in my truck camper with my dog at the Aspen-Basalt Campground about a 1/2 hour by bus from the skiing. Winter rate for electricity only is $40/night with clean washroom/showers.


Later this week I will be staying in the Jackson Motel 6 for $50/night minus 30% for a 7 night or more stay and $2.99 for wifi. Tiny rooms but recently refurbished. Or I could stay at a nearby campground that I think is open in winter for $59/night with free wifi.

post #15 of 20
If you want to enjoy some adult beverages in town, you can probably leave the top down and just park on a residential street. Or east of town off Hwy 82.
post #16 of 20
Originally Posted by SHREDHEAD View Post

If you want to enjoy some adult beverages in town, you can probably leave the top down and just park on a residential street. Or east of town off Hwy 82.


Generally speaking summer or winter an RV can come in handy when driven to the bar. No need for stealth in a bar parking lot.

post #17 of 20

Look around for a used Chinook (they have been out of business for about 8 years). They were a very well built 20' rear entry motorhome that is winter capable, avoid the bigger slide-out model. Spend a couple of grand for an On-Spot Chain system and you should be good to go. It is small enough to fit in parking places and be a bit inconspicuous to overnight in. It is a full on self contained motorhome of pretty good quality. They disappeared for making too high of a priced vehicle for their class and mismanagement, not for building junk.


It is also a rig you should be able to sell later for close to what you put into it. That is rather a rarity in the RV world. Just my $0.02 worth.

post #18 of 20
Originally Posted by Bryan Fitzhugh View Post

Thanks DanoT, definitely helps.


  I'm thinking long-term and willing to drop $20k for the right camper.  . 



Originally Posted by DanoT View Post



Right now I am skiing Aspen and staying in my truck camper with my dog at the Aspen-Basalt Campground about a 1/2 hour by bus from the skiing. Winter rate for electricity only is $40/night with clean washroom/showers.

I'm looking at the above numbers and thinking a winter of $60 motel rooms doesn't look like such a bad proposition without the hassle of acquiring and maintaining the RV/camper.  What am I overlooking?

post #19 of 20

Fair question I suppose.  If motels are around $60/night, what's your experience with camper overnights?  I would assume $40/night is very much on the high end - average being much closer to $10-$20??.  As far as Kirkwood goes, my impression is that you could still find a spot there even after it becoming Vailified.  There's open parking all around 7800 Club.  Is it just the case that if you pulled up with a truck camper you'd be hassled if someone saw you there with lights on?  Granted, having been around Kirkwood for years it's probably not a fair comparison for me vs. rolling into a new unfamiliar spot with regard to where you can set up shop for the night....

post #20 of 20

Check out this sight. 




A successful gypsy ski bum can hang skiing but more importantly has a likable personality and is quick at making new friends. It's very easy to find places to crash in most ski towns, at least for a night or two. Trying to camp in the cold every night would get old for me but people do it. If you have a large amount of funds saved for this adventure I think I would incorporate all possible lodging options and camping just to switch it up. I also like a hot shower after skiing and a warm bed but that's just me. 


There is also a thread on TGR called sleeping in parking lots or something like that. It'a full of info.


Also, think stealth for your vehicle. If it blends in and doesn't scream out to everyone that someone is sleeping in it you can get away with parking just about anywhere. 

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