When we were first looking at taking a season out to road trip around the Alps, we considered options besides motorhome skiing – and that included towing a caravan. Without sufficient towing experience we decided against this but on meeting hardy caravan skiers on our mountain journeys, we realised this was possible, even for the less experienced caravaner.
So can I take my caravan skiing? It is popular in Europe to take a caravan skiing and there are a large number of accessible campsites across the Alps, Dolomites and Central European Mountain ranges where you can park your caravan and take to the slopes.
Knowing as we do, that everyone has a different experience of touring in the mountains, we decided to reach out to someone with years of winter caravan touring triumphs, mishaps and disasters to get the low down on just how you take your caravan skiing. In this first article on caravan skiing, guest writer John Wilson shows you where to start when considering a caravan skiing holiday. If you’re intrigued by the idea and want to find out more, please sign up to the newsletter below where you’ll get regular updates from the Winterised Project.
Taking Your Caravan Skiing, Surely Not?
Well actually, yes you can. Apparently there are over 550000 touring caravans in use in the UK and probably over 10% of those are on the road year round. However, if you say to a UK caravanner that you are just getting ready to go skiing with your van, then at best you will get a raised eyebrow and more likely your sanity will be questioned.
In the Motorhome community, heading for the Alps has long been accepted as part of the winter scene, so why caravanners with skis are thought to have lost all reason is hard to say. Perhaps it is the joy of defrosting frozen water pipes; towing hundreds of miles on snowbound autobahns; and the challenge of negotiating an icebound campsite?
Whatever the reason, a small band of bonkers Brits turn up each winter because we know what thousands of Motorhomers already know…. that it’s great fun; can be very cost effective; and offers so much more flexibility than a traditional resort-based ski trip.
Caravan Skiing is More Popular Than You’d Imagine
Of course when we get on site, we are not alone, as thousands of European caravanners have been doing this for decades, and winter camping all over Europe is serious business.
My neighbour on a site in Austria last year had his van onsite for the whole season for just €1000 – added to which his season ski pass did not cost much more than 3 weeks in high season. All he had to do each Friday afternoon was to send his Hymer caravan a text message to turn the heating on and drive the 2 hours from home in Germany for the weekend. What’s not to like? Even better – he was not there Monday to Friday, leaving near deserted pistes for me! (Well it was January, and our fellow Brits don’t usually show up and spoil it all until February. Just joking!).
With some careful planning, preparation, and help from online communities, taking your caravan to the snow is fairly straightforward even in a changing European world.
What You Need To Know Before You Consider Taking Your Caravan Winter Camping
It is essential to make sure you, your car and your caravan are fit for purpose. The coldest driving conditions I have encountered were -21C, the coldest overnight temperatures whilst in a caravan has been -15C, and there are plenty of folk who can tell you of colder!
1. Is your car fully serviced and up to the task of towing in winter conditions?
This includes the possibility of being equipped to drive at altitude and legally in all the countries you will pass through on your way to the slopes.
2. Does your car have winter tyres? (yes you do need them – whatever you’re driving – check out the articles on winter tyres here) Have you got a set of snow chains that you know how to use?
3. Are you aware of the legal requirements for drivers towing caravans in EU countries (no they are not all the same)?
4. Are you aware of the total weight of your car/caravan combination? Different weights mean different speed restrictions so being aware will save on those speeding tickets!
5. Check out the rules on Speed detectors, Sat Navs, and Dash Cams. They vary from country to country and fines can be hideously expensive if you get it wrong.
Is your Caravan Winterised?
Is your caravan winter proof? “Of course” I hear you say, the majority of UK caravans have been built to DIN 1645-1 standard for several years and can handle the winter. Well possibly not. Within the standard there are two key levels and fully winterised is level 3 (level2 – winter proof, helps but doesn’t really cut it) and even then you need to recognise that UK manufacturers are building for a predominantly 3 season market and may not design their caravans with your ski holiday in mind. Check out what standard your caravan was built to.
Winterised: Long time readers to the blog will also know that these grading systems are, for want of a better expression, balderdash so this is great advice for anyone – especially if you have a UK built caravan or motorhome.
Keeping Warm in Your Caravan
• If you have a modern heating system such as Alde or Truma then you have a good head start to avoid the freeze but it is really worth surveying your caravan and looking at where your pipe runs are and how you can additionally insulate them
• Look to add extra insulation to windows (foil covered bubble wrap works) and roof vents (25mm polystyrene covered in the wrap is helpful here)
• A small oil filled radiator is useful if your van is an older model and can help keep you above freezing in the caravan (This De’Longhi portable one is available here on Amazon and is just the right size and weight to make it perfect for caravanning)
Note: On site electricity is expensive in winter, often charged per amp hour used, so you will need to keep an eye on what you use to keep control of your budget and don’t forget you may need a ‘Schuko’ plug adapter to connect on site.
Of course you could set your thermostat to a nice level and your caravan will be warm all day just running on gas but it will use a lot of propane (possibly 2/3kgs a day if cooking as well) so two 6kg Calor cylinders may not see you through a one week trip.
Your UK bottles cannot be exchanged in EU countries where propane is usually much cheaper than at home, but cylinder deposit/purchase is easy and affordable. A 13kg cylinder in Germany is usually around €55 to buy initially, and then about €17 to refill. The same cylinders are available in Austria but due to local tax will cost double what you will pay in Germany.
Consider doing your shopping en route and make sure you check they will fit your gas locker – whilst keeping an eye on your nose weight. Similar deals on cylinders can be found at French and Italian supermarkets and some garages. Adapters for the different cylinders can be bought in the UK online – Outdoor Bits has a comprehensive range of fittings and adapters.
Some sites offer ‘piped’ gas on mains supply and sometimes supply the long hose and connection. It is worth an email to your chosen site to see what arrangements they have to offer. You can also use the refillable tank systems in your caravan but these can be expensive to fit, and can be problematic specifically for caravanners to refill in EU, and may not be worthwhile unless you are away for several weeks at a time.
Winterised: This is not however as true for motorhomers and we highly recommend using LPG refillable systems which gives you a lot more flexibility – see more here.
Many winter sites in the EU, especially Austria have excellent facilities with modern heated shower rooms, washing up areas and heated racks to store your boots and skis at night. Some have clothes drying rooms, although if your caravan bathroom is heated a bit of clothesline will turn your shower into a drying area as well.
A Few Invaluable Top Tips
1) Leave your Aquaroll at home! They are not designed to work at Alpine temperatures even with one of the heated covers that are sold in the UK.
2) Consider fitting an on-board connection (Truma make one for around £30) or just keep some water in the caravan for general use in smaller containers.
3) Don’t use closed grey water containers as they make super ice blocks and can split on defrost. Take a large washing up bowl with you so you can easily tip your grey ice block away.
4) If you wish to take an awning with you, it is unlikely that your traditional UK awning will work. Lightweight fabrics and glass fibre poles will not take the weight of snow. If you wake up in the morning to find 15cm has fallen overnight, then your summer awning will probably be waiting collapsed outside. Special heavyweight winter awnings with steel poles are available from manufacturers like Isabella and Dorema, but they can be very expensive and rare in UK dealers. EU dealers have more choice and better prices but they often turn up on gumtree, ebay, preloved and the like.
Oh, and don’t forget some extra heavy-duty steel pegs, a lump hammer and a snow shovel – don’t skimp on your research here – a decent snow shovel will be a very welcome investment! You can see the full Winterised review of their choice of snow shovelling equipment here.
Next up in this Caravan Skiing segment is John’s recommendations on great campsites in Europe. If you want to be notified when there are new blogs on the website, simply sign up for the newsletter below, or subscribe to notifications and you’ll get a little pop up in you browser every time we post!
What is the best winter campsite in Europe? Year after year Camping Arlberg Pettneu near St Anton in Austria is voted the best winter campsite in Europe and with good reason. It has amazing facilities and access to some of the best skiing in Europe.