Fall-line digital editor Hannah James has a van, a man and no plan. This is part 4 of her epic season in the Alps and a run down of the lessons so far
It’s not all bluebird days and snuggly evenings playing backgammon, that’s for sure.
Snowchasing in a motorhome turns out to be hard work at first – and for some reason this came as a surprise to both of us. There are easy ways to do it of course – stay in a campsite, for one. But our dogged Britishness has meant that we made a plan to wild camp or stay in the wonderful French aires (hybrid between car park and campsite), and we’re attempting to stick to it come hell or high water.
Actually, it’s come hell and no water. We’re in a spanking new motorhome which is luxurious by #vanlife standards. But the taps and free-flowing hot water are only available, we have discovered, if you fill the tanks up successfully – a process that includes gaffer tape, a hose and cable ties…
We have also discovered that this way of life is not a secret. We’ve met lots of game motorhomers – mostly French and German (for whom motorhoming is as common as camping to us) but with the odd adventurous Brit clan; all much more experienced than us and none of whom were stupid enough to embark on their first motorhome trip in the depths of winter. Thankfully, they’re a helpful bunch and pity is a wonderful human trait.
Apartment vs Motorhome
We have found that skiing from a van is absolutely nothing like staying in an apartment. If there’s a power outage in your ski-to-the-door pied-à-terre you simply leave a note at reception and go on your merry way, catch the first lift and forget about it until you return après ski and voilà, it’s all fixed.
If you’re motorhome skiing and your power goes out, which it will, you have several processes to go through before you can even consider heading up the slopes. First you have to tell your van mate,
“The ****ing power is off… again!”
Then you have to put on every item of dry clothing you can find, and head into a blizzard to put a coin in a meter, change a gas bottle or refill your generator with petrol. This is all providing you have sufficient coins, gas or petrol, which you won’t. You then come back inside, try and make coffee in the dark and curse the day you said,
“I’ve got an idea. Why don’t we…?”
This was the first night we had some seriously cold weather. Common issue… Handbrake froze on. Lesson learned! @falkentyres started to earn their keep! . . . . . . . . . . . #motorhome #mountains #sunrise #ski #motorhomeski #snowboard #snow #winter #winteriscoming #wintertyres #ice #alltheaires #hymergroup #sun #sky #france #french #mountainsports #snowsports
Why this might just be the best way to spend a season
So what are the upsides? Snowchasing. We’re only a few weeks in and we’ve travelled to seven different villages in France – the better known resorts of Les Gets, Châtel and Le Grand-Bornand, as well as little tucked-away gems, such as Vaujany and Chapelle d’Abondance. We’ve also managed to ski various different mega-areas, including the Portes du Soleil and Grand Domaine, hitting glorious conditions. We’ve managed to break it up without breaking ourselves, and that’s a huge perk of a slower pace of life on the road.
We’ve met a bunch of weird and wonderful characters, from the expected ski bum seasonnaires living in a banged-up old panel van, earning a crust washing dishes and driving the transfer bus, to the unlikely family of five from Essex in their super-fancy land yacht fully equipped with heated lockers and an enviable full-size fridge freezer.
We’ve learned a huge amount about ourselves and each other. We’ve woken daily to panoramic views of the mountains, tumbled out of bed onto fresh powder, and every meal time is like a picnic in the wild.
We’ve also discovered that mountains aren’t just full of snow-seekers. The villages we’ve visited so far all have their own unique culture and heritage that’s fascinating if you take five minutes out of your precious powder days to look around off the slopes and meet the locals.
So now we’re a little way through our learning curve, here are our tips so far, in case you’re considering a motorhome ski adventure:
DOS AND DON’TS – the lessons so far
❄ Don’t worry about losing ski-to-the-door privileges. Some aires have the best seat in the house in terms of views, and all campsites (yes, we relented and stayed in one in the midst of Storm Eleanor) run free bus services to the slopes.
❄ Do book a campsite if you’re planning to be there during major holidays, such as half-terms and new year – you may, like us, find yourself in a truck stop if there’s no room at the inn.
❄ Don’t rely on guidebooks or apps – they’re often not up to date and the local authorities reserve the right to close aires for events or safety. They’re great for reference but proceed with caution. Chatting to locals and consulting Facebook groups are better sources of up-to-date info.