It is often daunting for those of us with inadequate budgets, holes in our pockets, or other limitations on accessible financial support to fund our dream ski resort vacations, even when staying in Colorado. Lodging can be around $200 a night at the cheapest for most large-scale resort towns, gas comes in around $30 per tank, resort or ski town food runs at prices higher than most (think a $10 burger for $17), libations for those of us over 21 can be wildly more expensive than at your local dive, and of course the ultimate fuel in your tank that seemingly increases with every step you take toward a chair lift: coffee. These expenses dig holes in your wallet before even considering the daily cost of arguably the most essential ski item; day passes can run anywhere from $54 to $164 depending on the resort.
Perhaps you can scrounge the funds, or maybe a birthday coincides nicely with Christmas, or maybe you have received a generous bonus from your generous boss (congratulations), and you decide that your ski vacation is nebulizing into reality. Whatever the circumstances, there is one way to eliminate excess cost and still have an amazing trip and that is to car camp. Both warranted and undue ski bum jokes aside, living out of your car for a week can save you hundreds of dollars in lodging and culinary expenses.
In proving this bold statement over spring break, we did in fact save an average of $1,400 per person in overnight lodging and expensive resort food while still having an amazing and arguably lavish ski vacation. Along the way, we were also able to compile a list of advice and essential items we never knew were quite so essential until, for example, we were stuck in a remote dirt lot on national forest land with a dead battery and no jumper cables. The following is a list of ten items we quickly realized we had forgotten, neglected to bring, or realized were entirely vital to the operation.
1. Jumper Cables
Like I mentioned before, it is a depressing time of morning when your car won’t start and you’re standing shivering in your pajamas in the snow on a remote national forest road with no other cars around, wondering how to salvage the situation. Solution? Invest in jumper cables. You can buy them for under $10 and it will save you some numb toes and a frustrating start to an otherwise wonderful day.
2. Air Fresheners
As much as I might glorify car camping during your nomadic adventure, I will never lie about how smelly two humans become after a week of skiing in the hot sun and sleeping in a closed air capsule. I will say it’s bearable, however a cracked window overnight and a nice evergreen tree hanging from the rearview mirror certainly can’t hurt the nose.
3. Boyfriend, girlfriend, significant other, or dog
Despite our zero degree sleeping bags, three wool blankets, and insulated sleeping pads, nothing beats having a warm body sleeping next to you during the coldest hours of the early mountain mornings. It’s also nice to share your adventure with someone, even if they aren’t verbal communicators. If you do bring your dog though, please bring lots of water, food, a leash, a warm and comfy bed, check on them throughout the day, and please leave a note in your car window to prevent well-wishing civilians from rescuing Fido (or Fida) from within your private property, perhaps even by shattering a window.
Your socks will be wet. Your base layers will be soggy. Your waterproof outer layers inexplicably will be a little less waterproof than you suspected. For the little stuff like socks, buffs, and mittens, toss them in your sleeping bag and your body heat overnight will dry them to a literal crisp. For larger items, hang them from the roof handles overnight and they will at least be guaranteed to not be sopping wet when you layer up in the morning.
5. Quick-dry towels, face and body wipes, soap, and a little extra money
Colorado ski towns are deep within the mountains and Colorado mountains are notorious for having geothermal hot springs scattered intermittently, many remarkably close to your frequented locations. Some are part of swanky resorts and are therefore wildly expensive. However, others are still financially accessible to even the cheapest of ski bums and all will have a shower to wash off both the week-long ski grime and the sulfurous odors of Colorado mountain hot water. Make sure to bring quick-dry towels to hang overnight and your own soap. For days or towns when hot springs are too expensive or nonexistent, bring some cheap generic face and body wipes for a quick and dirty road shower.
6. More socks and underwear than days
I guarantee your socks will get sweaty and begin to smell like moldy cheese curiously quicker than you would guess and you will usually want two pairs of underwear a day. Just trust me.
7. Coffee, cream, french press, ac adapter, water heater
Coffee in resort towns can run an exorbitant $5 for a latte. To restrict the rapidity of your caffeine-fueled bankruptcy, I advise investing in an AC adapter for a water heater so you can use your fancy, otherwise neglected french press to brew some delicious road coffee. The one time you break down and step foot into the cute coffee shop on the corner, enjoy the deliciousness. If you have a wildly uncontrollable sweet tooth like myself, snag a few extra sweetener packets while you’re there for your next road coffee creation.
8. Snacks and more snacks
When you’re skiing all day, whether you’re cooking food for yourself (the cheaper option) or eating out (often the more delicious option), you are guaranteed to still be hungry. All the time. Do your future ravenous self a favor and buy lots of your favorite snacks. Chips and salsa are great road items that won’t spoil and fruit is delicious if you know you will consume it before it bruises and molds, forgotten under the passenger seat.
9. Water and water purifier
It’s easy enough to bring your own water, yet sometimes when all you want is to start skiing already, the last thing you want is to have to stop by an out-of-the-way gas station to replenish stores. Bring two or three gallons of water, especially if Fido/a is along for the ride. Most gas stations will let you use the small water pedal on the soda machine to restock, but for those mornings when you’re in a rush, it’s better to have more than you would think necessary. Often you can find good overnight parking spaces near water sources, so toss in some potable aqua or Aquamira if delicious mountain creek water is more up to your palate standards.
10. An insulated cooler bag
These inventions are wildly more useful than I ever knew. The two best parts about using them during car camping is that they compress to flat when empty and that you’re surrounded by hundreds of thousands of acres of nature’s ice. Pack some clean snow in there during the day and the cold temps will effortlessly keep your items cold overnight. Just remember to keep the bag upright as the snow melts…
Car camping while skiing might not be mom’s idea of a successful vacation and many ski towns are of the same opinion, making it difficult at times to find a free overnight parking spot. However, if you can locate national forest land or an out of the way side road, make sure it’s flat ground and sweet dreams! Ski bumming can be an amazing avenue to an even better ski vacation. It can be a great way to adventure with the pup or your significant other if you can both take time off from your equally enthralling 9-5 jobs. You are almost guaranteed to have a week or more of epic days on the mountain and will undeniably have some more advice to add to this list.