Do I Need To Take a Generator on a Motorhome or Campervan Skiing Trip?

Do I Need To Take a Generator on a Motorhome or Campervan Skiing Trip?

For our first season in the mountains and to our surprise, our motorhome didn’t come equipped with any solar panels so with only a few weeks to go before departure, and a lot going on in preparation for leaving, we hastily investigated whether we’d need a generator for our motorhome skiing trip.

So the question is, do I need to take a generator on a motorhome or campervan skiing trip? If you are planning to spend more than 2 days without electric hook up, or you need to power 240v items like laptop chargers, a microwave or hair drier, then you will need a generator for your motorhome or campervan ski trip.

Many people new to motorhome skiing get shocked by the seemingly never-ending list of ‘essential items’ that are recommended by seasoned pros. These costs can run into thousands and many of them are frustratingly labelled as ‘in case of emergency’ items but are necessary none the less.

We feel that a robust, good quality generator is an absolute must for any motorhome skiing trip – it will offer you a huge amount of freedom, is a surprising cost saving , and perhaps most importantly, offers piece of mind that wherever you are, whatever weather conditions you find yourself in, you will have a good source of power for heating and cooking.

The exception: if you are only ever intending to stay on campsites with a decent power supply (10+amps), you will not need a generator and can save your pennies for more exciting things!

We’re going to cover the main reasons why you need a generator for a motorhome skiing holiday here:

  • Solar is Not Enough
  • A Generator Represents a Cost Saving
  • 240v Equipment
  • Running your engine to charge your bartteries
  • An Insurance Policy

Solar is Not Enough

We often see people arguing that they have solar panels and therefor don’t need a generator.

We frequently hear this (or some such):

I have 400kw solar panels which is enough to power Brighton for 7 days

Argh… but do you have 400amp hours of leisure batteries? If you do, fantastic – you are extremely well equipped know a heck of a lot about motorhome skiing and aren’t likely to be reading this!

If you don’t have a whopping battery bank then it really doesn’t matter how much solar oomph you have because without anywhere for that power to go, once your 100amp hour leisure battery is full, it’s full. 400 watts ain’t going to bring you any more power. We hope that makes sense!

Days are short, snow is white and mountains are huge.

Days are short in winter – if you get 4 hours of daylight in the depths of winter you’re very lucky and so the sun, whilst fabulous in summer months or at the Easter-end of the season, is simply not in great enough supply in winter to fully recharge your leisure batteries daily.

Snow is white – almost entirely opaque in fact – as are clouds, and snow is pretty welcome when you’re on a motorhome ski trip and is accompanied by clouds. You can get some extremely fancy solar panels that harvest the light that squeezes through snow and clouds but they still need daylight hours in which to perform. See above.

Mountains are HUGE! Why does this matter? Because they cast shadows. This really doesn’t matter if you’re in the L’ile Au Soleil of Alpe d’Huez but if you’re venturing into the unknown (or the Pré la Joux aire in Châtel) you might find the best parking spots suffer from significant shade, even during daylight hours.  

So – solar is fantastic for topping up but it’s certainly not a reliable source of energy for an off grid motorhome skiing trip.

Max 3 hours of sunlight a day in the Vallee D’Abondance in January

A Generator Represents a Cost Saving

Perhaps one for those committed to longer trips, or those travelling year in year out – the maths adds up at around day 60. In our case, had we not borrow our generator, we would have broken even in the fourth week of February of our first season away.

How is buying a £1K+ generator going to save me money? We were on a very tight budget, determined to last an entire season and that meant staying in as many cheap or free locations as possible. This was somewhat limited by the capabilities (or lack of) of our motorhome but didn’t stop us trying! Even when staying on aires that had power facilities, we often opted to use the generator as it was significantly more cost effective than jetons, which sometimes only offered a short top-up blast on your batteries and are only available to buy during office hours.

With the flexibility to stay on unserviced aires, ski lift car parks and wild camp where permitted, we saved the cost of staying on campsites, which certainly eats into the budget of a seasonnaire.

You must not however neglect the cost of fuel, oil and servicing when doing your own calculations but after approximately 60 days, your power costs drop significantly and we are sure you won’t regret it.

240v Equipment

This will not be news to many of you reading this but your leisure battery does not power 240v equipment without an inverter (solar set ups often do include this however). When I started this snomadic adventure I had absolutely no idea at all what that meant but James put it in layman’s terms for me.

The hair drier won’t work.

Say what?! Basically, none of your regular household devices will work if you are not plugged into shore power (or electric hook up as it’s known as in Europe) or have a 240v supply from a generator.

Even that fancy microwave you have in your galley will go on strike and that’s the last thing you want when you’re coming down the mountain, frozen to the core, and looking forward to a vin or chocolat chaud!

More importantly for us – that meant that without the generator going, we couldn’t charge our laptops or camera equipment, and despite 12v chargers being available for laptops, we could not find any that were recommended with any guarantees for the expensive equipment we carry.

So until batteries get better, we think a generator is an essential investment for snomads like us or anyone who likes to watch Netflix or YouTube whilst they’re away.

Running your engine to charge your leisure battery

This is possibly one of the most misunderstood processes when it comes to motorhome skiing – or just how your leisure batteries get recharged in a camper full stop.

We will cover this in far more detail in another blog but the simple fact is that once your battery is drained, it takes a heck of a long time driving (not just running, but wheels actually turning) to recharge that battery. Your motorhome alternator was not designed to recharge a leisure battery so it’s pretty rubbish at the job. Just to give you an idea of how long this takes:

  • You have 100amp hour leisure battery which you drain down to 50% storage
  • You will likely need to run your vehicle (dependent on a few things) for upwards of 10 hours to recharge this to near full capacity
  • To put that in perspective, if you are in Bourg Saint Maurice, you’ll need to drive to Calais before your batteries will be brimmed again

Most mountain hops are a couple of hours max and so you need to consider how much driving you are actually intending to do, and how dependent you are on that for topping up your leisure battery.

However, if you have a generator, it will charge your battery during use, so plugging in for a short time each day will save you from dropping below the deadly 50% (20% on lithium) and ruining your batteries altogether.

An Insurance Policy

This coming winter is due to be a cracker in the northern hemisphere. Heavy snow fall is predicted with very cold temperatures and talk of a repeat of the epic 2017/18 season is rumbling around Ski resorts all over Europe. If the idea of being snowed in a top a beautiful mountain with only your skis and a box of wine for company is too much excitement, then think again!

Having survived 2 Beasts from the East, and Storm Eleanor in 2018 in a grossly underequipped motorhome, we have become preppers and first thing on the list is a generator. Power and water are the most important things if you get caught out in extreme weather, whether you’re on a campsite (power cuts aren’t uncommon in some places) or marooned on a col – you do not want to be without heating and cooking facilities.

You also don’t want to miss the opportunities that having a generator affords you – chasing a powder storm is a really exciting prospect – don’t be stuck in camp when opportunity knocks!

Tips on Using Your Generator Whilst Parked Up

So we’ve covered the main reasons for needing a generator for a motorhome or campervan skiing trip – now here our top tips for actually buying and using your generator when skiing.

You get what you pay for. This is an investment and like with many things in life, you certainly get what you pay for with generators. There are less expensive generators available than the one we recommend but there are no ‘cheap ones’. All a cheap generator will do is provide you with false confidence and when you come to firing her up in times of need, she might let you down unable to cope with the altitude or temperature. We prioritise:

  • Reliability
  • Volume (dB)
  • Size
  • Price…. In that order.

You can see our review with all the specs and what we chose a Honda EU20i here.

Be considerate. Every aire or parking spot has an established rule when it comes to running a generator. Mostly, people fire them up as soon as they get in from skiing for the day and sometimes, for an hour or so in the morning. It’s generally considered very bad form to run a generator after 8pm in winter – people have kids and aires aren’t places where people tend to hang out drinking late into the evening.

However, if you have an emergency and can communicate this to your neighbours, nobody will mind too much – everyone’s been there.

Cover Up. Even a waterproof generator gets cheesed off if it ends up under a foot of snow overnight. We rigged a tent for ours using an ikea bag and two broken kids skis we scavenged having not thought about this prior to departure!

You can probably get something designed for the job but a bit of tarpaulin is always worth having on board anyway. 

Keep the exhaust clear. Make sure you’re not either covering up the exhaust or pointing it somewhere stupid (like at a vent or plastic pipe) and remember to clear the snow away from it on your regular digs.

Security. If you have a modern suitcase generator, you have nothing to fear by keeping it inside the vehicle when you’re not using it. We stowed ours in a compartment under a seat which we slept on every night and never once smelled any fumes. The same goes for a fuel can. This really is the safest place for your generator when not in use – they are really valuable and nickable! We never have any real security concerns but that doesn’t mean being reckless with our gear, so we always use a plastic coated cable lock and secure it to the axle when it’s outside. 

We hope that answers any questions you may have about whether you do indeed need a generator for a motorhome or campervan ski trip!

Related Questions:

What size generator do I need to run my motorhome? For winter use you need a generator that has at least a 2KW power output.

Can I hire a generator for a ski trip? Yes. There are a number of hire companies that will rent you a suitable suitcase generator for between £80 and £100 a week. Just be sure to let them know you are taking it to the mountains as you might find it uninsured otherwise.

 

About Hannah

Gobby, opinionated, professional ski bum. Co-founder of the Winterised Project.