Ski By RV
There’s a whole world of winter beyond the Walmart parking lot.
The RV had me at “changing room.”
A couple hours after picking up a nine-metre winterized motorhome in the sprawl of Vancouver, we’ve managed to navigate our palace on wheels to Sasquatch Mountain Resort, the ski hill formerly known as Hemlock. It’s puking. Pulling into the nearly empty parking lot, walls of white cascading down all around, I should feel stoked. But in place of the white dreams is the chilling prospect of changing out of my city clothes in a snowflake shower. I can feel them melting on my bare back; see myself half dressed, losing my balance, landing in a puddle; taste the shame of public nudity charges.
And then I look over at Sean. Paul hasn’t even turned off the RV and Sean’s already undressed in the bedroom. Dustin starts mechanically extending the bump-out kitchen to make more room. Within five minutes we’re dressed for the storm—no goose bumps, soaking socks or awkward looks. The four of us step out of the motorhome with smiles on our faces. Yeah, pumped that it’s snowing, but more because we’re already in love with RV road tripping.
Over the next five mid-February days we’ll be freewheeling across southern B.C., making decisions on the whims of the weather. With no reservations or worries, we’ll drop the confines of plans and itineraries to embrace the nomad lifestyle and freedom of the open road. And the snow gods will reward our mindful presence.
The trip even started auspiciously. As I pull my overstuffed Volvo into the CanaDream’s pickup lot, not far from the Vancouver airport, the first flake falls from the sky. The four 40-something friends hop out and are soon getting the tour of our new home. The Maxi Motorhome is part of the CanaDream fleet of winterized RVs, the only one in Canada we’re told. Extra insulation, heated water and waste systems, and a built-in generator keep them humming and us comfy to -30°.
By the time we’re loaded and leaving, about an hour later, it’s snowing for real. Determined to make the most of the trip we set the GPS to drive along the north side of the Fraser River, eventually heading north to Sasquatch, with the plan of squeezing in an afternoon of skiing. At Sasquatch, it’s snowing so hard the welcoming Big Foot carving looks like a grizzled silverback with a milk moustache. Ten cm are on the ground and it’s snowing at least a centimetre a chairlift ride. It’s Tuesday, the place is empty and only one of the two main chairlifts is open. We hop on the Skyline double and watch the snow collect as the terrain below goes from mellow groomers to open black-diamond glades.
At the top of the Skyline we head skiers’ left toward a series of shallow gullies. Starting on a ridge, the windblown snow sucks me down to the guts, fluffy crystals blowing off my shins, before spitting me out onto a cat track. We regroup and then arc high-speed turns down the groomer, dusting off our road-weary stiffness.
It’s when we head in the opposite direction that we find even softer, deeper snow. The terrain is steeper, too. By our third run we’ve discovered a zone of small pillows where we play for the rest of the day. Charging through the steeps, popping off small pillows, hitting the groomers with speed, all of it covered in new snow that seems to refresh every lap.
We’re soaked and satisfied by the time the liftee calls last run. Having skipped lunch, I’m happy for the excuse to get to après.
“Well, that was worth the drive,” I say, sliding into a table.
“Where should we go next?” Sean wonders out loud. Out come the phones and we’re all scrolling through snow reports, various weather forecasts and mapping apps while we eat dinner.
Apex wins. But first we have to stock up in Hope. Back in the RV half an hour later I’m putting away groceries. Somehow we bought eight litres of fruit juice.
“Do you guys drink lots of juice at home?” I ask.
“No way,” comes back a trio of replies. We all laugh and then buy a couple cases of beer. It’s like someone has released us from our lives as family guys. We’re back to being 20-something bachelors with no responsibilities except to ski and have as much fun as we can.
The next morning at Apex we pull into the RV parking lot near the ski resort’s base village around midnight to find 15 cm of downy snow on the ground and a billion stars overhead. Check-in consists of backing into an RV stall, plugging in and cracking a beer. Within 10 minutes we’ve set up our home on wheels for sleeping: a permanent queen in the back for one, two singles in the loft over the driver’s cab and a kitchen table that turns into a fourth, squishy bed. Officially it sleeps six, but we’ve decided four guys with ski gear is plenty.
Under a crisp blue sky the next morning we meet up with Kaid and Harrison, a couple of locals and resort employees, for a tour. It’s a “busy” powder day at Apex. There are maybe 30 cars in the parking lot and we stand behind two other groups for our first run on the Quickdraw quad chair. As it zips to the summit we scout the possibilities.
We soon find the kind of snow that’s so light it seems to dive out of the way on the way by, leaving a contrail of dust hanging in the air. The first couple hours of skiing disappears in faceshots and frosty smiles, steep tree lines, mogul runs covered in a uniform icing and buttery high-speed corduroy.
We still haven’t stood in a lift line for more than three chairs or skied a run that wasn’t mostly untouched when Sean has to head down to the RV for an 11:00 a.m. conference call. The rest of us keep skiing. We unload at the summit and Harrison hurries over to a patroller friend. “What do you recommend?” he asks.
“I don’t know. Everything is pretty tracked up,” the patroller replies, not a smirk in sight. We laugh and push away, diving into another run full of untouched lines.
The rest of the day continues like this. For last run we head back to where we started the day. In sight of the lift, Sean and I find an untracked line through the trees that leads into a drop. The landing is a waist-deep explosion of powder that leaves me smiling all the way down to the après beer.
One round in, nachos half-finished, we make the unanimous decision to spend the night and drive to Mount Baldy in the morning. With no snow forecast overnight, it’s our best option for powder. (The resort is normally open Thursday to Sunday only.)
We head back to the RV to change out of our ski gear. Not long after hanging our jackets and gloves in the shower to dry, the only feasible place to store wet gear, Paul turns on the entertainment system over the door and slides Hot Dog, the classic 1970s ski movie, into the DVD player. Harkin Banks, the rookie freestyle sensation, appears on the screen. We’re mesmerized, like toddlers watching Paw Patrol. By the time it’s over and we’re hiking across the parking lot to the Gunslinger Saloon for dinner, we’re calling each other Harkin, have nicknamed our RV Sunny after his love interest and are giggling one-liners: “Hey, Rudy. You can kiss my ass. Not on zis side. Not on zat side. But right in zee middle.”
A little hangover doesn’t keep us from making first chair at Baldy the next morning. Across the Okanagan Valley from Apex, Baldy is aptly named, with wide-open skiing on the main mountain leading into nicely gladed trees. It doesn’t take us long to find the pockets where the wind has herded the snow into drifts twice as deep in the trees.
Still primed from Hot Dog we goad each other into jumps, cutting each other off, racing each other down groomers and spraying each other with snow. Our posse is 13 again and Baldy is the perfect place for our shenanigans.
Apart from us, it’s quiet today. Andy Foster, the GM, tells me lift lines are maybe five minutes long on the busiest day of the year. “It’s not the best for the bottom line, but great for the skiing experience,” he laughs. There aren’t too many people to annoy. And the hill is full of natural jumps, open trees and playful terrain. We session a perfect old-man air—not too big, perfect landing—including a spread-eagle contest; it’s the only trick any of us can do.
As is our tradition, we shut the ski hill down and emerge from après to find Sunny is the only vehicle left in the parking lot.
The next morning, Dustin almost has to break our no dumping in the bathroom rule. We set it on day one and have followed it religiously. But we pulled into Manning Park Resort in the dark and he didn’t see the path leading from the RV parking area to the lower level of the lodge and the bathroom.
Resorts have varying policies about motorhomes, Klaus Gretzmacher tells me. As CanaDream’s VP of tourism, he co-ordinates partnerships with ski resorts, restaurants and attractions. “Resorts used to look at motorhomes as a nuisance that takes up extra parking spaces and doesn’t leave any money behind,” he says. “But they’re starting to see that our guests are not cheap. They wine and dine and bring their own room.”
Some resorts allow RVs to spend the night free of charge in a back parking lot. Some have motorhome parks with power close to the slopes for a fee. And others don’t want motorhomes at all.
Manning Park stands out as one that rolls out the carpet, with power hookups and showers within a hundred metres of the lifts. But when Dustin wakes on Friday morning with urgent business to attend to, he can’t find the path to the lodge. Two laps of the parking lot later he’s back at the RV begging for directions. He finds the path. Just in time.
It’s not our only good luck. Monday to Thursday, Manning only runs the Orange Chair, leaving neighbouring Blue Chair idle. This past week, with 20 cm piled up, Blue is spinning now. Like everywhere we’ve been this week, there are no lines at Manning. We lap the powder until our legs groan.
Feeling tired, we decide against making lunch and head over to the lodge. We walk in at the top level to scan the packed room, then head down the stairs to the brown-bag zone to find 100 school kids. Without a word we continue to walk out the back door to our motorhome. Dustin whips up salmon sandwiches and we wash it down with a beer. I note one more reason the RV kicks butt over a car.
The day at Manning is our shortest, not for quality of turns but because our legs need a break. We forgo après for a swim at Manning Park Resort, the related hotel and cabins 10 minutes from the hill. Soaking weary muscles, we discuss options and weigh variables. “It’s dumping at Mount Baker,” Sean says. Decision made.
Two hours later, I’m inching the motorhome into the confines of the U.S. border stalls. The boys have spent the last 30 minutes sweeping for contraband—fruits, vegetables and dairy products…mostly. We make it through and then all that’s left is navigating our mansion up the snowy switchbacks. Leading up to the trip, the only thing I worried about was driving the beast through snow. It has been the only stress over the last four days, with plenty of wintry, icy, narrow mountain roads to navigate; yet we haven’t slipped once. Heavily loaded with water, gear and guys, and winter tires on six wheels with chains for backup, Sunny’s ready for winter driving.
An hour or so later, a little white-knuckled, I pull her into the Mount Baker parking lot. It’s Friday night and all the accommodation is full. That’s okay with us. We find a level spot, shut off the engine, crack a beer and fire up the generator.
The heater hums all night, promising clear skies and dry snow. Sure enough the sun rises to reveal a parking lot lined with overnight campers, the biggest snowplows I’ve ever seen clearing last night’s fresh and, most important, a snow-covered playground preparing to open.
We join a crowd waiting for the rope to drop. When it finally does, we stampede toward the lifts like pigs to the trough. The snow is deep and light. With only a couple hours before we have to go, we charge around the mountain, feasting on as much of the tree-skiing and steep faces as we can. Just as the hill is getting tracked and our legs are screaming, it’s time to head out of Dodge.
Loaded up, Paul pushes the gas but we don’t move. Sunny just spins in place. Maybe it’s an omen. Maybe, like Harkin Banks, we’re still just rookies. Maybe Sunny has more to teach us. “Back up a little,” Sean suggests. “Be really gentle on the gas,” Dustin encourages. Without the use of chains, Sunny growls slowly forward, out of the parking lot and down the hill.
As Paul swings her downhill like a pro, I think about how every love teaches you something. In that moment in the Baker parking lot, I realize Sunny has taught me to slow down. I’m always rushing. To get to first chair, ski as many laps as possible, get home to pick up kids, finish an article on time, make dinner before the hangries hit. On this trip, we had freedom. No agenda. Nowhere to be. No responsibilities. No rush. I slowed down, enjoyed the company of friends, the open road and a pimpin’ RV.
JOIN A SAFARI
Don’t want to RV on your own? Join the caravan that is The Ski Week. For the last two winters, CanaDream partnered with a U.K. tour operator to take care of all the logistics, including ski and motorhome buddies. The week-long RV road trip in B.C. includes the motorhome, stops at three B.C. Interior resorts, après activities and dinners. theskiweek.com
CanaDream’s winterized RV rentals are seven-night minimum, starting at $1,288. The motorhome is ready to go with water, bedding, kitchen utensils and room for up to six people. CanaDream has also hooked up with 2,800 tourism partners to offer discounts for RVers on everything from meals to lift tickets at 20 Western Canada resorts. canadream.comApex Mountain Resort, CanaDream, Featured, Mt. Baker, Mt. Baldy, RV, Sasquatch Mountain