Ski Bum Guide to Camping with an Outside Van at PNW Mountain Resorts

We recently surveyed our Outsiders to discover their preferred ski and snowboard spots, and it warmed our hearts to learn about the myriad of locations they’ve uncovered for parking, hanging out, and enjoying the mountain resorts day and night! Our Outsiders frequently set up camp at Mt. Bachelor, Crystal, White Pass, Mt. Baker, Big Sky, Stevens Pass, Mt. Hood Meadows, Grand Targhee, and many more!

In the wake of the vandemic, resorts have adapted to the growing number of van lifers seeking to camp overnight on the mountain. With many resorts unable to provide lodging options, spending the night in your rig in the parking lot allows you to enjoy a leisurely morning and be the first to hit the slopes!

This style of RV camping often includes après-ski gatherings featuring snow fort building, bonfires (wood and propane), and an open invitation to join the vibrant “ski bum” community.

We asked one of our Outsiders, Derek, to share his winter van life experience:

Describe your van life journey so far:

“Our kids get the credit for naming our van: tiiiinyvan. Each “i” represents a member of the family. This is our second van. Our first was a Sprinter 144. After two years of adventure in that van, we decided to dial in a slightly larger van with Outside Van. Our break-in trip after picking up the van March 2023 was a few nights of camping and skiing. Our van is a year round basecamp for all of our adventures. Skiing, MTB, paddle boarding. One of our favorite parts of van life is being able to go out on a moments notice, play hard, and end the in a cozy space. We’re not tied to specific schedules. The van gives us options and flexibility regardless if we’re out for a day excursion or exploring a new part of the country.”

Can you share about a ski resort you’ve camped at?

“We’re fortunate to have some great ski options in Washington state. If it’s a midweek trip, one of our favorites is Stevens Pass. The overnight lot puts you closest to the lodge. There is a slight slope from where your van is parked so that you can ski down to the main lodge entrance. If conditions are right and you’re comfortable in the trees, you can end your day on Kehr’s and ski right back down to the overnight lot.”

Advice you have for other van lifers who want to join in on the winter fun:

“It’s highly likely that if a ski resort offers overnight parking, it requires a paid reservation. So make sure to get familiar with when reservations are made available and get on it. In our experience, the reservations go quick. If temps are going to be dropping well below freezing, consider mixing in some anti gel to your fuel. We learned the hard way on a trip to Mt. Baker when the fuel gelled leaving us without heat. Not fun. One of my go to tricks at the end of each day is to use our air compressor to blow out snow from gear. It really helps to cut down on overnight drying time once inside the van.”

Final piece of van life advice:

“Figure out what some of your staple van meals are, and keep the cabinets and fridge stocked. Saves time when you decide it’s time for your next adventure. Maybe keep some backup base layers and fallback gear as well.”

Photo by Sara Levine Rigel

Another Outsider, Sara, Shares Her Perspective:

Describe your van life journey so far:

“We have been in our 170 Extended Sprinter, “Orion” for a little over a year.  This is our second Outside Van (the first one was built in 2009), so we’ve learned a lot about the opportunities and challenges with winter camping. We designed Orion specifically to support our four-season van adventures for our family of three.

One example of our design that we worked closely with Nick at Outside Van on is the floor plan including a partitioned heated garage area in the rear of the van that we can use to keep snowy/wet gear and clothing separate from our living space. We also have an outlet and keep a boot dryer in the garage to quickly dry out wet boots and gloves. In addition to heat and power, the garage also has exhaust fans in the rear doors to help get the moist air out of the van as our gear dries out.”

What is your favorite part of van life?

“There are so many benefits and favorite parts of winter van life for our family. It starts with the ability to escape the city and get up to the mountains on Friday afternoon before the crowds, traffic, and potential weekend weather that can shut down the roads to our local passes. Waking up at the lifts on pow days on weekends and not having to battle for parking with the crowds is a definite plus.

But the best part is spending time as a family soaking in the beauty and excitement of being immersed in the mountains during the winter. Our daughter is super passionate about skiing and Orion is simply the perfect base camp for launching our mountain adventures together and to return to at the end of the day for après snacks, beverages, and telling stories about our favorite runs from the day. We have some of the best family time hanging out in our Outside Van after a big day in the mountains.”

Can you share about a ski resort you’ve camped at?

“There is a great ski camping scene at nearly all of Washington’s resorts along the Cascade Mountains. Most weekends we can be found in Lot 3 at Alpental (The Summit at Snoqualmie) from Friday afternoon to Sunday. Lot 3 has a rich history and it is very popular given its proximity to Seattle and the amazing big mountain terrain available just out the van door. Every weekend the lot is packed with rigs and you’ll certainly be able to find patrollers, friendly families, and the most die-hard ‘Alpentolics’. So, it is important to plan early and get reservations for the nights you know you want to stay over.

We have also had some great trips to Mission Ridge near Wenatchee with its prime row of camping spots close to the lifts, super light snow (for Washington!), and family-friendly vibe.”

Advice you have for other van lifers who want to join in on the winter fun:

“Here’s a few clutch pieces of advice that we’ve learned over the years living in our van in the winter:

Moisture management inside the van is critical.

Everything is generating water vapor in the van during winter, including condensation on cold surfaces interacting with the warm air from the heater, wet gear drying, and even just breathing. Keeping the moisture under control is important or you can end up with a dank van interior with ice buildup on windows and other surfaces. To combat the wetness, we slightly crack a window or two and run our Maxxfan on low to keep some cool dry air moving in and hot moist air moving out. It is also important to get as much snow off of equipment before it comes in the van. We use our air compressor to blow snow off the gear and also wipe things down with some ShamWow towels that we keep in our rear garage area.  Lastly, we place a few super absorbent door mats at the side slider door to step onto when entering the van with snowy feet.

Carry a recovery kit, tractions boards, and shovels.

If you are lucky enough to catch a big winter storm, you might get snowed in at your camp spot and it’s very possible the resort might plow around the camping area. Having the proper gear to extract the van at the end of the weekend could make the difference between a frustrating or happy trip home.

Use a winter anti-gel diesel treatment if your heater uses diesel.

We learned the hard way that even diesel fuel purchased in winter can reach it’s “cloud point” if it is below zero degrees for extended time, which can cause the Webasto fuel line and filter to clog up and stop the heater from firing. Since that super challenging and cold night, we always keep a supply of anti-gel treatment on board for every fill-up of the diesel tank to prevent fuel gelling from ruining a trip.

Plan your water strategy based on the capability of your van’s water system to withstand cold temperatures.

Our first van was not designed for super-cold temperatures, so we always drained our water-system in the winter and kept jugs of water on board for our water needs. For washing dishes, our strategy was to use a small spray bottle with a soap/water mixture to spritz on the the dishes and wipe down with paper towels to get things clean-ish. Orion was designed for winter adventures, so the heat duct that runs to the rear garage area passes directly along the water system keeping everything warm and we have a heating pad on our external gray water tank to prevent it from freezing. So we are able keep water on board most of the time in the winter, unless the forecast says it is going to be arctic cold for an extended period. A good motto to remember: “‘When in doubt, drain it out.'”

Final piece of van life advice:

“Van life in the winter is a lot of fun! But there are things that will inevitably go wrong, so you have to be ready to adapt and problem solve when they do.”

Popular PNW Ski Resorts for Overnight Camping:

Information from the 2023-2024 season.

Crystal Mountain, WA

Washington’s largest ski resort stretches across 2,600 acres of terrain with over 2,400 vertical feet to explore. Located on the northeast corner of Mt. Rainier National Park, and just 2 hours away from Seattle, Crystal offers a wide variety of groomed and off-piste runs, with expansive views of the Cascade Range.

Wake up mere steps from the chairlifts and circumvent the morning commute to the mountain. With both 30amp and 50amp hookups available in the B lot to accommodate most sizes of RV, with the purchase of advance reservations.

Camping starts at $45 a night, but most of the season is peak rates of $115 (30 AMP) and $125 (50 AMP).

Stevens Pass, WA

With an annual snowfall averaging 460″ each year, 1,125 acres of diverse skiable terrain to challenge all ability levels, Stevens is great for the whole family.

Stevens uses an online reservation system for its RV camping spots that include 30amp hookups. These spots are popular and start at $43. An RV week is from Wednesday through Monday and closed for plowing Tuesday at 4pm through Wednesday at 5pm.

Summit at Snoqualmie, WA

Just an hour from Seattle on Interstate-90, The Summit at Snoqualmie (and Alpental) re-define convenience, variety, and fun for skiers and snowboarders. With four unique base areas, snow tubing, snowshoeing, mountain biking, and Nordic trails, there’s truly something for everyone.

Overnight passes must be reserved online. No hookups, spaces are limited, you can stay up to three nights a week, and you can reserve spots during the summer and winter operating seasons. It costs $40 a night to reserve a spot at Snoqualmie.

Mt. Baker Ski Area, WA

If you live for the powder days, Mt. Baker is the resort for you, averaging over 600 inches of snow each year! Just an hour away from Bellingham, Mt. Baker is the most northern resort of the Cascades in Washington.

Experience RV camping at the resort in the Heather Meadows and White Salmon parking lots, starting from $32 per night for a maximum of seven nights, reservations are required. Please be aware that there are no hookups available at these locations.

Mount Bachelor Ski Resort, OR

Mt. Bachelor has grown to be one of the largest ski resorts in the U.S. The resort boasts a wide variety of terrain, allowing guests to ski or ride 360 degrees off the summit, hike the adjoining cinder cone for a well-earned run down, or ski the trees off the western bowls to find that great cache of powder.

All overnight parking / RV camping must be reserved and paid online in advance, with a two-night minimum for reservations that include a Saturday night. RV spots at Bachelor start at $49 a night for non-powered spots, and $69 for a powered spot and can be as expensive as $178. Mt. Bachelor offers 50amp, 30amp, and 20amp powered hookup spots.

Mount Hood Meadows, OR

Mt. Hood Meadows operates on a special use permit in the Mt. Hood National Forest, offering some of the most spectacular skiing and snowboarding in the Northwest. The resort is just 67 miles from Portland, and it delivers a big mountain experience you’d expect to travel much farther to enjoy. The resort sprawls across Mt. Hood’s southeast flank and the terrain welcomes and challenges all levels of skiers and snowboarders.

Mt. Hood Meadows allows overnight RV parking in the back of the Sunrise Lot on a first-come first-serve basis, and you must have a valid Sno-Park Permit Nov 1st – April 30th. You can stay 3 consecutive nights, as long as you are cognizant of snow clearing plows from time to time. There are only 14-18 spots depending on snow, so you’ll want to be an early bird to snag one!

Hoodoo Ski Area, OR

Hoodoo Ski Area sits on the summit of Oregon’s Santiam Pass and is Oregon’s most centrally located destination for winter sports enthusiasts. 44 miles west of Bend, 85 miles east of Eugene and 130 miles southeast of Portland, Hoodoo Ski Area offers more than 800 acres of terrain, 34 runs, five lifts and one of the largest tubing parks in the West.

Reservations are required for RV camping at Hoodoo. Hoodoo has 32 RV sites near the entrance of the bowl and close to the lodge. During the winter season each site comes with an electric hookup. In addition, the new lodge has tiled bathrooms open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with two pay showers in both the men’s and women’s restrooms. The reservations start at $45 a night for no hookup and $65 for hookup spots. On peak weekends, prices start at $135, and single night reservations will not be accepted during peak weekends.

Grand Targhee Resort, WY

With mountain activities for everyone to enjoy, Grand Targhee is one of the best resorts of the Rockies for a family getaway. This resort averages 500 inches of snow each season, and some of the deepest powder you’ll find in the west.

Campsites are conveniently located in the back of Lot 2, within walking distance to all resort activities and amenities. You can reserve spots in advance starting at $39 a night, with the option for a relaxing pool/shower add on for an additional $55 a day. Make sure to check in with the front desk to grab your parking permit. No electrical hookups available at this resort.

Taking Everything Into Account:

Embrace the freedom of slope-side van life! Instead of paying for a hotel room at the lodge or an Airbnb at the base of the mountain, park your van at your favorite resort for an incredible ski trip experience. Thanks to a combination of Forest Service regulations preventing extensive mountain lodging and the camper-friendly ethos of many resort owners, you can park and sleep in your adventure van at nearly every major ski area in Oregon and Washington. This unique opportunity not only aligns with the regional ski bum spirit but also positions you perfectly for an unforgettable weekend adventure right by the lifts.