[Here's the truth: Some aspects of skiing just plain suck. It can be freezing cold, ridiculously expensive, require long hours on the road to reach your destination, and there's no guarantee the snow conditions will be any good once you get there. We deal with all of these setbacks anyway because, simply, we love to ski. But wouldn't it be nice if someone had a little advice to make those so-called problems fade away? We've asked a series of experts -- and by experts, we mean people who spend a lot of time on snow -- for their tips, ranging from easier travel to saving money to waterproofing your gear. This is part one in the series. Stay tuned for more advice to come.]
Chris Tatsuno has spent five full winters living out of a Chevy van, road-tripping from one ski town to the next. As a sponsored athlete for Tecnica/Blizzard and other brands, he's part ambassador, part ski bum and a full-time road warrior. The 29-year-old has logged thousands of miles chasing storms around the Western U.S. We spoke to him from his van, parked somewhere near Carbondale, Colo. These are his words of advice on how to live out of a van for a winter and ski every day you can.
Plan your winter out. Maybe follow a freeskiing tour or check out parties thrown by ski resorts. It's nice to have a few things lined up in advance, but also, spontaneity is the whole reason for being in the van. You can go anywhere at any time.
To save on gas, think about linking up resorts in a loop rather than going back and forth. Try to spend a few days in each destination. Park it for a while and walk to where the action is.
Social media is the biggest boost for watching storms build. Your friends are the best guidance on the conditions at their home resort and what the next storm might bring. Also, practice reading the radar mapping images and get used to the storm patterns as they move from the West Coast inward.
Van-life is all about living with, around, and on top of your gear. Try to pack light. Mid-size plastic bins make for great temporary storage and if you have enough of them, they can be used for your bed.
Keep the skis out of the van. Get a roof box or rack.
Stuff flies around while driving, so stash your stuff tightly, hang it if you can, and invest in straps or netting to keep things in place. I've put plywood on the walls with carpet over it and I've drilled loop screws into it to hang things. Most of my stuff, I keep in dry bags or in its own case and I strap it to the wall.
Jumper cables are the most important thing to carry.
You'll also want a spare tire, tow cable, second battery for laptop and cell charging, power inverter, carabiners, straps, backup flashlight, a zero-degree sleeping bag, and slippers with rubber soles.
The best ski town to park in? I would love to say Telluride but they have a no idling ordinance that they enforce. I had a great time in Whistler -- there was a public restroom and a shower that nobody every patrolled. Aspen is probably the hardest town to park in.
Stuff doesn't ever fully dry when you're living in a van. Get used to soggy boots and always have two or three pairs of goggles and extra pairs of gloves.
Après ski is a great time to hang inside and take off your ski boots, outerwear, and gloves and let it dry.
You'll meet people who hear you're living out of your van and they'll be like, 'Dude, come on over. I've got a shower, we can cook dinner.' You get those offers more than you expect. You need to be a low impact guest -- if you're staying on someone's couch, you don't want to be the guy who's sleeping in on the couch. And always do the dishes.
Truck stops have cheap showers. Wear sandals.
It's always better to have someone else along for the ride. It helps keep expenses low and gives you someone to hang out with. It makes for a better experience, but it does get crowded living in a van with two people.
Van camping requires ninja-like skills. Park on the outskirts of town in the back of empty lots if you want to set up more of a basecamp. Most ski resorts have a back lot that can provide a fairly safe spot to ninja-camp. Just look for 'no overnight' signs. Try to pick a spot where a public restroom is nearby.
The things you want to pay attention to: Parking restrictions and what areas have snow removal on certain days.
I have a Coleman two-burner stove for cooking and a small cooler for storing food. During the winter, keeping food cold during the night is not a problem. It's almost keeping stuff from freezing that's the hardest thing.
Ultimately it comes down to if you're out there, you've made the decision to live in a van and go chase powder. The world is looking on you with good intent.