Having an awning attached to your caravan is essential for many UK caravanners and increasingly popular with motorhomers, especially when on site for longer stays. They provide a weather break for the entrance to the van, a useful extension to the living space and often form the main living and storage area for families and couples alike.
Should you take your awning with you on a ski trip? Yes. Many of the reasons for using an awning on a snowbound campsite are the same as in summer conditions but you will need to be flexible and creative about how you use it.
In this post we look at the benefits and pitfalls of taking an awning with you on a ski trip.
Summer Awnings aren’t Suitable for Use in Winter
It is unlikely that your traditional UK awning will work. Lightweight fabric 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 and you’ll be lucky if you don’t find some sort of damage to something somewhere.
The weight of lying snow and the design of traditional awning roofs do not fit well together so a dedicated winter awning is required. Taking your summer awning and hoping for the best will likely result in you travelling home awning-less or with a huge bag of ripped fabric and bent poles.
Winter awnings are made of heavyweight materials – usually polyester and vinyl panels with a thicker vinyl roof and sturdy steel frame. It is usually recommended to add to the standard pole kit an additional winter kit, which reinforces the roof with steel braces.
All of this reinforcement makes for a heavy bundle to carry with you on your drive to the slopes. An Isabella 3.6m winter awning with winter pole kit weighs over 35kgs and is not an item to add to the caravan payload when you factor in all of the additional items required for a ski trip. We recommend reserving some space in your tow car for this item. If you’re in a motorhome, you need to seriously consider space (great if you have a garage, not so great if you don’t) and weight.
Winter Awning Design
Winter awnings are designed with a sloping roof, often in two stages which is different to standard awnings which usually just feature one pitch straight from the side of your van.
This two-pitch design allows accumulated snow to slide off and be accessible with a brush for manual clearance.
In these pictures you can see they are capable of standing up to the worst of winter, and the design of shaped roofing.
Setting Up an Awning in Winter
Setting up awnings in winter requires a little more attention to detail on snowbound sites.
The panels and roof need to be as tightly stretched over the frame as possible to provide strength, and strong steel pegs are needed to anchor the awning down in the hard packed snow and ice.
Hard-standing pegs bought in the UK don’t usually work too well. They tend to be made of fairly thick steel which doesn’t cut through ice well.
Thinner steel pegs are often sold on EU sites, which pierce the ice easily.
Using a long steel nail, a washer, and a piece of plastic tube, you can cheaply make these at home.
DIY Awning Peg Kit for Winter Use
An essential part of your awning kit is a lump hammer to put the pegs in, and a claw hammer to get them out again! For summer use, many just use a steel claw hammer for both jobs – in winter, you’re going to need the right tool for the job and where ice is concerned, heavy duty is necessary.
If you don’t already have these, you can pick them up on Amazon for reasonable money here:
OX Hickory Club Hammer (Click to Amazon)
It’s always worth buying for the long haul and spending a bit more. This club hammer comes in 2.5lbs and 4lbs (we recommend the 4lb for dealing with compact ice but watch your wrists). We prefer wooden handles for comfort, durability and the option to replace the handle if necessary.
OX Pro Series Claw Hammer with Curved Claw (20oz) (Click to Amazon)
Single forged (that is important to trade’s people like James) and not too heavy, this hammer has a long enough shaft to give you the leverage you need when removing pegs without needing Highland Games spec forearms!
The Greenhouse Effect in A Winter Awning Set-up
It is important to decide what you hope to use it for, before buying a winter awning.
- As an entrance porch it will work well to give you somewhere in the dry to shed boots and jackets before entering your van
- As a storage area for skis and boards. (Remember to secure them to your van chassis to ensure your insurance is valid)
- As a workshop for waxing and repairs if out on an extended trip
- As an area to hang ski clothing to dry out
- As a place to dry the dogs out!
However, be aware that a vinyl awning – especially with window panels – will act as a greenhouse as the sun moves across the site during the day. Whilst you’re off skiing, the melting snow on and in your awning is making a paddling pool ready for your return from the slopes, which inevitably will freeze again as the sun goes down, creating your very own private ice rink!
Managing Your Ski-Awning Expectations
- Using a winter awning as an evening lounge probably won’t work as well as you imagine
- As an area to sit out for apres-ski drinks may require wellingtons
Due to the use of vinyl in the construction of the roof panel, winter awnings generate a lot of condensation and even your Karcher Window Vac isn’t going to stand up to this job! However, this can be managed by fitting a roof lining, which often comes as part of a winter accessory kit. A roof lining is essential, especially if you intend to hang clothing up in the awning on return from the slopes. Even then, awnings are rarely warm for long enough to act as drying rooms, and really aren’t suitable for leaving ski clothing hanging overnight – try it and you’ll see what happens!
To avoid the inconvenience of melting snow in your awning, many sites offer free pallets to line the floor with. They offer a raised surface to walk on and protection for items you leave in the awning. Used extensively by seasonaires, a look into your European neighbours awning will show mats and groundsheets laid over pallets, reducing condensation, damp air in the awning, and creating a much more useable area. You will need to check with your chosen site if pallets are available, and decide if the extra effort is worth it for the proposed length of your stay.
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 skirts can be bought in long lengths online and cut to size. Fitting one to both sides of your van will reduce cold airflow under the van and aid insulation. For those of you in motorhomes and vans with metallic skirts, we are massive fans of these side skirts from Van Comfort and sell them in our shop here in three lengths: Click here to find out more info.
It is also possible to buy awning rail, 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 rails 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. You will need to create an access point wherever you have placed your waste bucket and don’t forget to make sure the gauge of the rail matches the skirt.
What and How to Buy an Awning Suitable for Winter
If you are setting up on a snow site for a week or more and need the space for equipment storage and to help cope with the pressure of your family in the caravan, then a reasonable size porch awning is a big help. Over the years, as a family of four and often travelling with our dog, our ski ‘utility room’ was a really important addition to our set-up.
If, however you just need an entrance area to keep the weather off your entrance door, then small porches designed for this use are available.
Note: It’s important to make sure you get an awning suitable for your vehicle as some caravan awnings are not designed around motorhome application and may come up too short to use factory fitted rails – if you are installing your own, you will need to ensure you set the rail to the correct height, ensuring it meets the ground.
The one thing that is not worth any consideration at all is a standard inflatable awning (see Domestic listing below for Winter Spec). They have become extremely popular in recent years due to their ease of use and compact storage. They are not suitable for your motorhome or caravan ski trip – with temperatures fluctuating as dramatically as they do in the mountains and with air being a pretty rubbish opponent of kilos of solidified water – these can be struck from your ‘consideration list’ unless very specifically designed for winter use and even then….
The Cost of a Winter Awning
Are you sitting comfortably?
Whatever you choose, winter awnings can come at a premium price to such an extent that some are a luxury item. The Isabella awning pictured above with a winter kit will cost you in the region of £1400 which is probably too much for a two week holiday, but reasonable value for a season or repeated trips.
There is a small second-hand market in the UK, so Preloved, Facebook Marketplace, and Gumtree are always worth a look.
The following table shows some of the best awning suppliers that offer a winter specific awning.
Worthy of further research are:
Relatively new to the UK market is the Dometic Winter Air awning. And despite our statement that air awnings are useless - this claims to be designed for the job - I have yet to see one in use or read any reviews in the caravan press, so it is difficult to know if they can truly stand up to Alpine use or are marketed as a four season UK awning. We will see!
If you are travelling through or skiing in Germany it is worth considering the excellent Fritz Berger camping store chain. Berger offers a large range of their own brand awnings, which are clearly popular with European winter campers as they are a common sight on campsites.
Berger has stores throughout Germany. If you are en-route to Austria a convenient over night stop is at TSG Augsburg football club, which has a Stellplatz that accepts caravans and is bookable here and is close to Berger’s Augsburg store in Lechhausen.
Keep an eye out for our prodct reviews where we give everything a jolly good Winterised test!
Awnings and Aires – Winterised Motorhome Ski Manifesto
It might come as a surprise to you to hear that awnings are forbidden on aires. As pressure on these facilities increases, it is important that we continue to observe the etiquette and rules that are set for their use.
There are a few private aires that will allow you to put up awnings but we stress that it is not commonly accepted, or tolerated. We really want to ensure that British motorhome skiers and caravans don’t develop the same reputation they have in other niche travel areas and so we hope that even if you see someone else using an awning on an aire, you keep yours locked and loaded unless you are on a campsite! If you want to find out more about using aires in winter, check out this article – Everything You Need To Know About Winter Aires.
Whatever you decide to buy, have a great trip and don’t forget a shovel!
All articles on Winterised.com are designed to provide information and advice on how to identify what you might need when you take your motorhome or caravan skiing in Europe. They are not intended to be definitive reviews but a guide to help you with further research to choose what is right for you.