We are in full winter mode and I have been pleasantly surprised that we have stayed relatively warm and clean. Winter has provided its share of challenges, but it’s also brought a slower pace with less driving and more evenings spent in the van. I haven’t managed to curb my maximizer personality on this trip yet, but I feel like winter will be good for me in slowing down and spending more time reading and thinking.
While in Bend at my parents’, we swapped out our bikes for skis, backpacking gear for snowshoeing gear, and shorts and tee shirts for long pants and flannel. Overall I think we have less stuff than before, or at least it is better organized. We added a soft bin between the front seats to hold all our many water bottles and car snacks (largely candy). We also added a similar bin to the back for the Instant Pot, cook set, and plastic bowls. Without the bikes we can keep the bed a bit lower so it is only slightly higher than intended (due to our bins – wish we had thought of our winter setup when we bought them). My mom and I (mostly my mom) added a mattress topper and made new sheets for the bed. The bed is in three parts – the main bed that goes up and down and small sections of mattress that stay in place in the bulb outs on the side of the van. This makes everything bed-related more complicated. All our skis are in the roofbox, which takes a little time given the ladder has to be relocated to the side of the van. Overall we are happy with the setup – especially some LED lights that we’ve lined the ceiling with to keep things more cheerful.
Things are harder in the winter in a van, but I also find things harder in a home in the winter. We are working things out and right now we are in Salt Lake City where van living is easy. These are the challenges we’ve had, so far:
- Filling our water tank: water is much harder to come by in the winter as dump stations, gas stations, and parks turn off their water to keep it from freezing. We had to make several stops in North Bend, Utah before we later found a truck stop that had a faucet still on. When I asked at an Ace Hardware if we could fill up, the kind cashier even called her manager to see if they could turn the water back on for me (they couldn’t). Here in Salt Lake we’ve relied on the hose at an apartment building our friends are staying at for the month. We expect we’ll constantly be on a hunt for water fill-ups this winter, especially when in ski towns. We’re keeping our many water bottles filled up between the gym, grocery stores, and ski resorts. I even filled our growler at the gym water purifier, which was only a little embarrassing.
- Dumping our grey tank: we thought dumping our grey water would only be hard because of fewer open dump stations, but our biggest challenge has been that the dump valve has a tendency to freeze. We spent several days desperately trying to open it before we received a little sun that finally thawed it out. When our furnace is on it cycles glycol around the tanks to keep them from freezing, but the valve for opening the grey tank is on the outside of the van and is frequently buried in snow. We bought a cheap heat gun that will hopefully solve this problem in the future.
- Low batteries: our batteries only can charge to 100% from solar or from plugging in. They also charge from the alternator when we are driving, but only up to ~75-80%. We can only run the batteries down to 50% since we have AGM batteries which would be damaged if depleted below 12V. This means that without sun we don’t have too much power to use. Add to this frequent furnace use and our batteries are constantly low. While the furnace runs on diesel, it uses a decent amount of power for the fan and to cycle the glycol. We haven’t had much sun, even in Utah, so we’ve had to start idling the engine for a few minutes in the morning and evening to use our induction stove. We also aren’t driving much here due to a convenient ski bus. While we were at Crystal ski resort in Washington, we paid $40/night for an RV parking spot and electric hookup in the parking lot. We spent two nights in the lot after spending our first two nights in a back country camping spot. The unlimited electricity was glorious, allowing us to cook more elaborate meals and drink all the hot chocolate we wanted.
One advantage of the winter is that slippery parking lots can provide a lot of entertainment.
Where we’ve Skied
So far we’ve skied at Crystal (4 days), Snoqualmie (2 days), Brighton (2 days), Solitude (1 day), Snowbird (Kelly 2 days, David 3 days), and Alta (Kelly 1/2 day, David 1 day). We’ll be in Salt Lake City another week and then we’ll head to Park City to meet up with my sister and her friends for our annual Sundance trip.
Crystal – David decided he likes Crystal even better than our home resort Meadows due to the terrain. Since I stuck to the blues and avoided all terrain, I didn’t have much of an opinion. This is the first place I’ve resort skied since breaking my leg skiing at Park City four years ago. I was surprisingly less scared than I thought I’d be, although I did have a hard time sleeping the night before our first day. I’m not pushing myself too much and went in early a couple of the days to snowshoe or do art. David has been a great sport about sticking with me on the easy runs, although I occasionally convince him to go off and ski what he wants to.
Snoqualmie – while we got a decent amount of snow at Crystal, we read that the real snow was happening at Snoqualmie so we made the couple hour drive for a few more days of Washington skiing. I couldn’t get over all the buried cars in the parking lot, wondering where their owners were. We stuck to the main part of the resort and I only got stuck in the deep powder once. However, the van got stuck in the snow several times when we tried to leave our parking spot in the lot we’d camped out in for a couple nights. A converted school bus was stuck and blocking one of the lot exits, and when the lot was plowed the other exit was blocked with snow. We manually cleared the area the snow plow had obstructed, but then got stuck in the soft snow several times. We got to put our recovery tracks to use, which were amazing at helping us get out of the snow. We then went back to try to help the bus now that we could access the front of it, but even the Gnar Wagon couldn’t pull it out. Luckily the ski resort sent a tractor to help them out as we were leaving.
Salt Lake City Ski Resorts – I haven’t taken any pictures while skiing here and don’t know enough about ski resorts to provide many insights into the characteristics of each place. I like Brighton best because it has lots of blue runs with areas in the trees that I can handle with very tiny jumps that I love. Solitude requires you to buy a locker if you want to leave a bag in the lodge which is a bummer. We went to Alta on a day with so much powder and so little visibility I was floundering and only skied half a day. Snowbird has the nicest lodge and a tram that takes you to the very top I don’t enjoy.
The best part of skiing in Utah has been the company, even though everyone is a way better skier than me. David’s friends Ben and Deirdre are here for the month and we’ve loved spending time with them. We skied for a day with David’s cousin who is an incredible skier and spending the winter traveling to different resorts in his Highlander. We’ve met tons of van friends that we were connected to through a couple we met at a back country spot in Idaho. They are the best networkers and have amassed a large group of fellow Ikon passers from all around. We are all camping in the same park and ride lot and feel like neighbors, greeting each other when we see each other in the lot and occasionally getting drinks or coordinating our ski days. David is loving all the socializing and I think it’ll be a bit hard for him when our time here is up. I’m getting my needed alone time through gym trips and ski days off. I’ve also started driving the van when I’m by myself, which is a big accomplishment for me! There is a ski bus that picks up right by our park and ride lot which makes it easy for David and me to split up for a day or afternoon.