Guest article for Fall-Line Skiing: SNOWCHASERS Part 4 of 5

It’s not all bluebird days and snuggly evenings playing backgammon, that’s for sure.

Snowchasing in a motorhome turns out to be hard work at first – and for some reason this came as a surprise to both of us. There are easy ways to do it of course – stay in a campsite, for one. But our dogged Britishness has meant that we made a plan to wild camp or stay in the wonderful French aires (hybrid between car park and campsite), and we’re attempting to stick to it come hell or high water.

Actually, it’s come hell and no water. We’re in a spanking new motorhome which is luxurious by #vanlife standards. But the taps and free-flowing hot water are only available, we have discovered, if you fill the tanks up successfully – a process that includes gaffer tape, a hose and cable ties…

We have also discovered that this way of life is not a secret. We’ve met lots of game motorhomers – mostly French and German (for whom motorhoming is as common as camping to us) but with the odd adventurous Brit clan; all much more experienced than us and none of whom were stupid enough to embark on their first motorhome trip in the depths of winter. Thankfully, they’re a helpful bunch and pity is a wonderful human trait.

Apartment vs Motorhome

We have found that skiing from a van is absolutely nothing like staying in an apartment. If there’s a power outage in your ski-to-the-door pied-à-terre you simply leave a note at reception and go on your merry way, catch the first lift and forget about it until you return après ski and voilà, it’s all fixed.

If you’re motorhome skiing and your power goes out, which it will, you have several processes to go through before you can even consider heading up the slopes. First you have to tell your van mate,

The ****ing power is off… again!”

Then you have to put on every item of dry clothing you can find, and head into a blizzard to put a coin in a meter, change a gas bottle or refill your generator with petrol. This is all providing you have sufficient coins, gas or petrol, which you won’t. You then come back inside, try and make coffee in the dark and curse the day you said,

I’ve got an idea. Why don’t we…?”

Why this just might be the best way to spend a season

So what are the upsides? Snowchasing. We’re only a few weeks in and we’ve travelled to seven different villages in France – the better known resorts of Les Gets, Châtel and Le Grand Bornand, as well as little tucked-away gems, such as Vaujany and Chapelle d’Abondance. We’ve also managed to ski various different mega-areas, including the Portes du Soleil and Grand Domaine, hitting glorious conditions. We’ve managed to break it up without breaking ourselves, and that’s a huge perk of a slower pace of life on the road.

We’ve met a bunch of weird and wonderful characters, from the expected ski bum seasonnaires living in a banged-up old panel van, earning a crust washing dishes and driving the transfer bus, to the unlikely family of five from Essex in their super-fancy land yacht fully equipped with heated lockers and an enviable full-size fridge freezer.

We’ve learned a huge amount about ourselves and each other. We’ve woken daily to panoramic views of the mountains, tumbled out of bed onto fresh powder, and every meal time is like a picnic in the wild.

We’ve also discovered that mountains aren’t just full of snow-seekers. The villages we’ve visited so far all have their own unique culture and heritage that’s fascinating if you take five minutes out of your precious powder days to look around off the slopes and meet the locals.

So now we’re a little way through our learning curve, here are our tips so far, in case you’re considering a motorhome ski adventure:

Dos and Don’ts – The lesssons so far

❄ Don’t worry about losing ski-to-the-door privileges. Some aires have the best seat in the house in terms of views, and all campsites (yes, we relented and stayed in one in the midst of Storm Eleanor) run free bus services to the slopes.

❄ Do book a campsite if you’re planning to be there during major holidays, such as half-terms and new year – you may, like us, find yourself in a truck stop if there’s no room at the inn.

❄ Don’t rely on guidebooks or apps – they’re often not up to date and the local authorities reserve the right to close aires for events or safety (Alpe d’Huez 2019 for Tomorrowland as an example). They’re great for reference but proceed with caution. Chatting to locals and consulting Facebook groups (as well as our own Winter Aires and Campsites pages!)are better sources of up-to-date info.

If you want to see how this all looked through James’s eyes, check out the Winterized YouTube Channel for some snowmad vlogs and aire tours.

Guest article for Fall-Line Skiing: SNOWCHASERS Part 3 of 5

Turns out, you do need a plan. For the first bit at the very least. The bit where you get a van, and then fill it with all sorts of stuff that seems critical for survival.

The Plan

Having spent over a year decluttering my life in pursuit of stuff-less-ness, the last few weeks have been a bit traumatic as the acquisition of hugely boring tools and equipment hit an all-time high.

Here’s what you need to know about #vanlife. Everything has to have Swiss Army Knife functionality. Like the jack-of-all-trades crofters of the Shetland Islands, a spoon needs to be a doorstop and a screwdriver and an ice axe – and preferably convert water into wine too.

We’ve had help with this kit-list as Facebook came to the rescue. We’ve started a cult via the medium of a FB group* (link below if you’re interested) who know everything there is to know about over-wintering in the Alps. They’ve been amazing. Although I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry at the pitiful cries coming from James of

“WTF do we need a see-through hose for?” and “Why are there four bloody adapters for this?”

Thursday is ‘van collection day’. Friday is ‘new Falken snow tyres fitting day’ and Saturday is ‘sit on the drive for 10 hours trying to make snow chains go on day’.

The garage looks as though it belongs to a doomsday prepper with metres of cables; blue plugs and red plugs and three-ways; and enough lavatory chemicals to sterilise a hospital. I’m sure Ray Mears wouldn’t need all this stuff. Once the snow-kit is in, there’s just no room for pants so James will have to go without.

a plan
Photo | Praz de Lys, France James Tunstall

Once we’ve loaded everything (and unloaded it and loaded it again), we’re going to visit our local VOSA weigh bridge to check we’re within the 3.5 permissible tonnes. This is actually important, and whether you’re in a T5 or a fancy coach-built motorhome, you’re not meant to carry too much weight. Apart from the obvious penalties you’ll risk here and in Europe, there’s a reason for those restrictions – and that is safety. It’s not because the Gendarmes don’t want you to bring four deckchairs and a spare hair dryer. Travelling overloaded will put your tyres under strain, potentially damage the suspension on your vehicle, cost you a butt-load more in fuel and, most importantly, completely invalidate your insurance. Now do you really need five pairs of skis each? Think multi-function (MUF as we’re calling it).

If it ain’t MUF it ain’t coming).

By the time you read this we’ll be on the road (and hopefully not shivering at the roadside using our emergency equipment and torch), with a fair few ski days’ skiing already behind us and looking forward to an extremely white Christmas. Of this we are confident, because as well as prepping our vehicle, we have been keeping a fanatical eye on snowfall (better than the last few years) and weather forecast (promising). In the happy and smug knowledge that wherever the snow is falling, we can follow it, fully equipped for action.

Update: That’s not how it went down!.… check out the rest of the series to find out what a season on the road actually looked like.

*If you want to join our Facebook Group – here’s the link.


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

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