It’s three clichés wrapped up as a midlife crisis. Mid-thirties couple jack it all in; acquire a van; and run away on an epic adventure.
Hannah James has a van, a man and no plan.
This is how it happens. You wake up early one day, take leave of your senses and declare a ‘sabbatical’ is long overdue. Then, in order to make sure you can’t back out, you inform everyone of your plans, including your employers. A few months ago, it happened to me.
Following an accidental 17 year leave of absence from skiing, I’d returned to the mountains last winter with determination, managing to wangle three trips.
It was on the third when the seed was planted for what has escalated into a grown-up gap year. I work in motorsport and have the luxury of a flexible schedule. On the back of a springtime test in Italy, my colleagues and I hatched a plan to endure the bum-numbing drive from Silverstone to Monza with the promise of catching the last snow of the season on the return leg.
It was the first week of April and dodgy conditions as well as a hankering from raclette resulted in a re-route from Livigno to Andermatt with little more than a cursory glance at Google maps. We reached the Swiss village for last orders and smugly wondered: Why don’t more people do this? We didn’t have reservations but we easily found a nice cheap bed.
Next day, with mainstream holiday makers gone and the locals a little snow-weary, we were seemingly the only people left on the mountain – us and the Swiss Army. We had the best ski conditions Andermatt had experienced all year.
Now I’m surrounded by maps and busy searching forums for advice, because in December, accompanied by my slightly railroaded partner, we will be setting off on a six-month tour of the Alps in a winterised motorhome. First stop Ötztal or the Oberland? Who knows? For that is the backbone of our adventure: snowchasing.
With increasingly variable European snow conditions, you take a punt if you book in advance, and I’m the kind of person who’d rather take a 100-mile detour than sit in a five-minute traffic jam. It’s all about freedom.
It’s about the ability to benefit from the best conditions, set our itinerary and stay in some extraordinary places, largely at very low cost.
We aim to prove that this method of experiencing the Alps isn’t just for #vanlife millennials but for all, from adventurous families to those on a modest, but not ski-bum budget.
By the time the last lift clangs to a halt in May we aim to have visited 25 areas in at least four countries, skied at least 75 days and by the Law of Murphy we should have endured a minimum of three tantrum inducing van-related crises.