Walking across Taps Bar toward the restrooms at Schweitzer Mountain Resort, ski boot buckles clacking, Gore-Tex crinkling, my eye catches the alpenglow dancing off the black waters of Lake Pend Oreille. Suddenly my eye catches movement in the distance.
Ripped from the majestic waters below, my eyes refocus on the parking lot. A small group sits around drinking cold beers. Sparks flicker up from their makeshift fire. I imagine they're all talking about the day's session. I begin to wonder why I'm doling out crinkled dollars for tall cans when I could be sitting in the gateway lot drinking beers with the outlaws, hollering at the sun while the moon makes its way onstage.
Six years after that moment: The condo of yesteryear is gone. No more VH1 Classic. No more comfy bed. Instead, I'm sitting across from my ski buddy, Ryan Ricard, in the parking lot at Schweitzer playing gin rummy.
My sleeping bag is draped over me, the bottom unzipped to accommodate my ski boots. The plywood table is curled up at the edges. The windows are glazed over with hoar crystals. The prior day we'd applied gallons of caustic sealant to the roof to prevent considerable leak issues, but this mid-1970s Kit Kamper is a far cry from the nostalgia of folded-down seats in my old Subaru Loyale.
The preparation for taking the RV to the mountain is similar no matter your mobile ski condo. Here are some things I learned along the way:
Pick with discretion. This person is going to be your hot-tub poaching partner. They must be able to sweet-talk beers out of the neighbors. Your parking lot partner must be someone who has slept in the cold, or you're running the risk of them pulling the ripcord and the entire mission being shipped to an overpriced hotel. Remember that you'll be sleeping in tight quarters, so be sure you're the louder snorer or pack earplugs.
Skiing is a good-time sport boasting high calorie combustion, warranting an arduous regimen of beers intermixed with high-sodium, high-protein dehydrated meals. At the very least, this regimen of rehydration and caloric indulgence will keep you warm. I suggest Good To-Go yellow curry; it's as gourmet at bagged meals get. Be sure to pack liberally when it comes to snacks. It's a great money-saving practice, so bring the chips and PB&J.
A nice sleeping bag is certainly enjoyable. If you buy one, ensure it's at least a true "zero degree" bag. There is no shame, however, in packing the blanket grandma knitted for Christmas if your sleeping bag is playing hide-and-seek the morning of departure. If your mobile living quarters are equipped with a heat source, check the propane, then watch Aspen Extreme to see what happens if you don't check the propane. This may sway you.
I prefer not to run my heater at night, to the chagrin of all involved, but better safe than sorry.
The destination is not critical when you're packing all you need to survive within arm's distance. As you plan, look to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (noaa.gov). Watch for storms. Attempt to coordinate any such systems with hot springs, steep terrain and an endless supply of places to park your mobile vacation home.
For the beginner or seasoned vagabond, Schweitzer offers on-mountain lodging for as little as $20 a day, but you must bring your own place to stay. The Gateway Lot is calling, and remember you're car camping, so bring everything conceivable for all conditions... this means gallons of water.
At Schweitzer, RV Day Passes are $20, available at guest services or through parking staff. A season RV Pass is $299. ♦