Words: Winterised Caravan Skiing Guru John Wilson
Preparing for your first trip to the mountains with caravan in tow might be a little daunting – the lure of chalet holidays past might still be strong, with afternoon cakes and warm accommodation enticing. However, all these comforts can still be yours, as long as you are happy to do a little bit of DIY before you set off, and when you get there – being the driver, the provider of the cakes.
How do I get my caravan ready to go skiing? To begin the process of getting your caravan ready to go skiing we recommend spending time surveying your caravan and take a ‘bottom up’ approach to preparing for the adventure.
Here’s what we’ll cover here to get your caravan ready to go skiing:
• Getting the Right Tyres
• Awning Skirts
• Waste Pipes
• Gas Locker
• Inside the caravan
• On the Roof
Getting the Right Tyres
Unlike your car (or a motorhome – check here for up to date information on winter tyre regulations for motorhomes) there is no requirement for your caravan to have winter tyres with the snowflake symbol (3pms) as it is classed by most countries as a trailer and, because it has no driven wheels, is legal to be used with summer tyres.
(Please note there are specific rules in Scandinavian countries, which may require you to fit winter tyres to your caravan, please check with the respective government transport websites for the latest information).
Check what you already have fitted
You might be surprised to discover that a number of manufacturers supply their vans with mud and snow tyres as standard (M+S specification) because they can give better grip when towing on and off campsites and in wet weather. I have found that they also help in winter in snowy and freezing conditions.
Change every five years
If you have been caravanning for a while you will know that general advice is to change caravan tyres regardless of mileage at about the five year stage, and it is definitely worth considering upgrading to mud and snow at this point. They can be left on all year as any additional wear caused by the slightly different compounds used in the tyres is offset by the lower mileage caravans do.
It is also a good idea to look at your jockey wheel. Changing from a solid tyre to a pneumatic one can make a big difference on snowbound campsites and is worth the change which will cost you around £25. This is only possible on single axle vans as twin axle vans are notorious for ripping off pneumatic tyres when used with a motor mover – so a solid wheel is the only option here. Alko heavy duty or the new Kartt jockey wheels will do the job.
Whether you choose to use an awning or not, your awning skirt can be very useful on winter campsites, especially when used around the whole van.
Awning skirt can be bought in long lengths online and cut to size (you can buy it in lengths on Amazon here). Fitting one to both sides of your van will reduce cold airflow under the van and aid insulation. It is also possible to buy awning track (or awning rail as it’s sometimes called online), so fitting a section to the rear valance will enable you to create a wrap round effect at the rear. Using a long piece to connect the side-tracks by passing skirt under the front will complete the job. You will see on site that most seasonaires do this and often weigh them down by banking snow onto the skirt to stop it flapping in the wind. Don’t forget – you will need to create an access point wherever you have placed your waste bucket.
Also don’t forget to make sure the gauge of the rail matches the skirt and as with snow chains on your tow vehicle, it’s best do do a dummy run before you set off!
Most older vans will have 20mm corrugated waste pipe, which over time will accumulate debris in bends and between the corrugations. In winter conditions this debris will freeze quickly, shortly followed by any standing water left in the pipes. It is easy to have fully frozen pipes within hours of arrival on site.
To combat this problem you could insulate under floor pipes with regular grey DIY pipe wrap, but this will get wet on route from road spray, will freeze itself and become a catalyst rather than a cure – unless you wrap the pipe wrap in plastic. If you use Armaflex (available from Amazon in lots of lengths and gauges), it has a non-porous finish which hugely reduces this absorption issue but there are other options.
Armaflex is a dense black material as opposed to the lighter grey domestic insulation most manufacturers use.
An alternative is to fit 28 mm flexible waste pipe, as is the norm on modern vans, although this can still freeze around debris, or to replace all your waste pipes with standard domestic 32mm solvent weld pipework. This has a smooth internal surface to allow water to flow quickly and a much larger bore to prevent debris clogging up bends. Opt for the shortest runs you can with gradual bends and consider having two separate drainage points for kitchen and bathroom to remove the need for link pipework under the van. Also make everything has a constant flow downhill.
A word of caution. It is likely that you will need to enlarge outlet holes in the floor of your van to accommodate the larger pipe, which could adversely affect your warranty if you have a relatively new van. As mentioned in my article ‘Can I take My Caravan Skiing?’ – don’t use closed grey water containers as they make brilliant ice blocks. One solution is to take a couple of large washing up bowls with you, as they just need a light tap on the bottom to empty when frozen. Hannah and James use a modified plastic drum – as long as it’s not fully enclosed, it’ll do the job. Of course if you have two or more external waste pipes, you will need multiple recepticals!
A lot of vans do not have a separate rear wall to the gas locker and are not integrated into the main body of the van. Insulation can be improved by lining the rear wall of the locker with foil coated bubble wrap (lots of types to suit any budget here), or Armaflex (which also comes in sheets as well as pipe insulation format).
Most motorhome and caravan skiers already know that gas only runs out when it is dark and snowing outside.
Changing a cylinder in the freezing cold is not funny, so I strongly recommend upgrading your bulkhead regulator from single port to twin port which will allow you to change cylinders with the flick of a switch rather than removing and changing gas hoses. If you’re on a generous budget, auto switchover regulators can be bought which are great but do risk leaving you with two empty cylinders if you forget to check regularly how much gas you have left. If you click on the image here it’ll take you to Outdoor Bits – their customer service is excellent if you want to pick their brains regarding the type of regulator you will require.
Of course gas supply gauges are also available including electronic versions, which have a meter inside the van. If you are not confident with gas work, always get an NCC registered fitter to do the work for you.
Additionally insulating the external locker doors on your caravan and the toilet cassette access door reduces cold air entering the van through ageing or faulty seals.
Inside the caravan
Unless you are lucky enough to own a caravan with a heated floor, all vans will benefit from additional insulation on the floor and under lockers and beds. Whilst foil wrap and similar products will do the job, a better product is ‘jigsaw’ floor mats. Lightweight, and easy to cut to size and fit these make ideal insulation under your carpets and inside your lockers. They can also be used on under locker walls using sticky fixers if you are concerned about the quality of insulation in the walls of your van.
You can check out a huge number of options here – we have the Rolson version which is available at Halfords and online but there are variations on the theme that differ in size, thickness and price.
Very few caravans have factory insulated pipe work inside the van and this is an essential job if you have any concerns that your heating system may not be fully up to the task of keeping warm at floor level areas that your pipes run through.
Standard 15mm pipe wrap will do the job (James insulates all their internal and external van pipes with Armaflex), but you should be aware that if your heating fails and your pipes freeze anyway, the pipe wrap will work in reverse keeping them frozen and will require removal to defrost, which is a real pain as I recall, having to do it early one morning in the Austrian Alps when our heating was not coping with overnight temperatures.
The only reliable way to protect your pipes is to ensure your heating is on all the time and that warm air is able to access the areas where your pipes are located. If you have an Alde wet system this should work well, but if you have a Truma blown air system, which runs through corrugated tubes, there are some upgrades that will help.
You can buy the corrugated tube in lengths and extend your tube run which will allow you to get closer to water pipes which are often placed at the very edge of the van. You can also fit additional outlets, which will heat the locker, under bed and cupboard areas. Clearly the more warm air outlets you fit, the lower the air pressure from each one becomes, but the overall heat will be more evenly distributed.
If you have enough slack in you water pipes or are able to re-plumb completely, a very effective solution is to cable tie your water pipes to the cardboard tube, which will prevent freezing in most conditions.
Leaving cupboard doors open also makes an enormous difference to the air flow and temperature stability in general.
You can find a lot of parts and accessories to help you with this job from Prima Leisure.
For emergencies my van-defrost kit consists of a hairdryer and a fan heater. They both work as I have found on more than one occasion!
Window and Door Seals
Second hand vans often come with tired door and window seals, which can be very expensive and a faff to replace. I overcame this a few years ago by installing a door curtain made out of heavy blanket fabric.
Windows can be insulated with foil wrap cut to size and held in place by the existing blind and it is always worthwhile cutting 25mm polystyrene or celcon to size to fit your roof vents, which can also be held in place with the existing blind.
If you suffer from specific cold spots in the van small low consumption greenhouse style heaters can make a positive impact. The Dimplex wall mounted tube does the job (check the price on Amazon – it’s a cost effective solution and they vary in price between supplier)
Now that you have sealed your caravan up, you need to consider the inevitable byproduct – condensation. In general a product such as the Unibond Aero 360 (possibly two for larger vans) should manage the problem, accompanied by occasionally airing the van through.
In acute cases you may need to clear windows with a Karcher Window Vac or similar – we know that Winterised swear by it – you can read their full review here!
On the Roof
In all probability you are going to see some fresh snowfall whilst you are away, potentially large accumulations, which will sit on your roof and provide lots of extra insulation. However, frozen water weighs a lot (think of a tank of water the size of you van roof with 100mm of water in it), and if you are not confident your caravan roof is built to take it (British built van owners take note!) or your expensive Heki rooflights will not survive being submerged in freezing snow you will need to clear it at regular intervals.
A soft brush on the end of an extendable handle is the way forward (check out Motorhome Ski Essentials as there is a very good one featured there) with a set of telescopic ladders if you have the space, weight, and budget capacity. If not most sites have ladders available in winter and you will find a friendly community around you who sometimes will lend you theirs.
Warning! Driving with snow on the roof
The brush will also be good for clearing the awning roof if you have one with you. It is essential to clear your roof before you tow or you will truly understand why some call caravans ‘wobbleboxes’. It will also help avoid incurring the wrath of drivers behind you on the road and the police when they pull you over to fine you for having a dangerous vehicle.
If you are happy to let some snow accumulate then Truma systems with roof chimneys will need an extension kit. Easy to fit on site if required, but ok to tow with fitted if easier at home before departure.
Not on the roof, but usually on the side of your caravan is the exhaust cowl for an Alde system. Clip a clothes peg onto the lower section of the cowl when on site and it will direct the vapour away from the side of the van and prevent an icicle forming on your bodywork.
So assuming you are insulated, prepared, and ready to tow, one last thought. Caravans are not like motorhomes, they are not heated at all when you are on the road and could have internal temperatures below freezing for several hours at a time during your journey. So carry water in the car and drain your water pipes before you tow!