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Van Life at the Slopes: The Ultimate Guide to Camping in Ski Area Parking Lots

Want to sleep slopeside for a fraction of the cost of a condo rental? Ski resort parking lot camping is the way to go.

RVs and campers parked at a ski resort parking lot(Photo/Ariel Frager)
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When we pulled into our designated camping spot at Hoodoo Ski Area in Sisters, Oregon, my family and I stepped out of the RV and took in the scene. Recreational vehicles of all shapes and sizes lined the outer ring of the parking lot. There were sprinter vans, big RVs, a converted school bus, trucks with camper tops, pop-up travel trailers, and more, everywhere you looked. 

With so many Northwest ski resorts located on Forest Service land and with nearby affordable accommodations in short supply, many ski resorts (like Hoodoo) allow camping in the parking lot. In fact, nearly every major ski resort in Oregon and Washington allows this practice as do resorts in Idaho, Wyoming, and British Columbia.

This unique RV camping culture often features après-ski parties with bonfires, snow fort building, and an invitation to join the ultimate ski bum community.

My family and I had piled into a Winnebago Minnie Winnie we’d rented from Happy Campers in Bend, Oregon, to partake in this most excellent RV-to-ski adventure. We learned a lot. (And not just from the master class in all things RV-related we got as part of the rental process.)

We learned all about winter camping in ski area parking lots, how to prepare for it, and how to pull it off to have the best slopeside staycation possible.

And there are a lot of resorts where you can make it happen.

(Photo/Pete Alport)

Slopeside Ski Resort Camping

Ski resort parking lot camping is an open secret among skiers and boarders in the Pacific Northwest. Not only is this practice more affordable than a hotel, Airbnb, or condo. You also get first tracks every morning, and a warm, quiet space to make homemade hot meals just steps from the lifts. And, generally, it just amplifies your ski bum mystique.

Ski resorts like Hoodoo also offer night skiing. That gives RV campers the opportunity to conquer the slopes from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The only thing better than a day of skiing is skiing all day and into the night.

A dog playing in the snow
(Photo/Ariel Frager)

Tips for Ski Resort Camping

  • Make sure your rig can handle the cold. Keep the water flowing by insulating the hoses with heat tape and adding antifreeze to the holding tank. Or you can drain the water system completely if the temperatures will be much below freezing. 
  • If you have to take the RV out without water because of the cold, bring along a 5-gallon water jug. It’s nice to not have to hike in the snow to get water for cooking, washing dishes, and brushing one’s teeth.
  • Sites with electric plug-ins are preferable for cold-weather RVing. Propane heaters are notoriously unreliable below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  • Bring towels to clean the floors. You will track snow into the RV, which will quickly turn into puddles. Towels are helpful for wiping up wet floors (and puppy paws).
  • Check your furnace for damage or obstructions before heading out for a cold-weather trip. Give the furnace a good cleaning with a soft brush and compressed air before your first winter trip.
  • Having multiple ways to get warm is essential. Consider adding a space heater to your RV, and bringing a propane outdoor fireplace or wood for a campfire.
  • Make parking lot reservations well in advance. Don’t show up to a ski resort assuming you can camp without a reservation. It’s also a good idea to check road conditions and forecasts before heading out for winter RV camping.
RV camping at a ski resort
(Photo/Ariel Frager)

What to Pack for a Ski Resort Camping Trip

  • Like any other winter camping trip, you will want layers. Non-cotton base layers, warm midlayers, and outerwear. Standing around outside during après happy hour or chatting with parking lot neighbors requires warmer gear than what you need for skiing or snowboarding since you won’t be moving as much.
  • Bring blankets, warm socks, slippers, hats, gloves, warm sleeping bags, and rugs. They will help keep you warm in the RV when the temperatures drop. An extra propane tank doesn’t hurt either.
  • Emergency RV roadside kits with jumper cables, flares, and other necessities are smart to have on hand in your rig. You should always have chains in the RV if you are going up to snowy mountain areas. We needed a shovel to dig out after a couple of days of excellent powder during our Hoodoo camping trip. 
  • Fill up your gas tank before heading out to winter camp. Running out of gas on a mountain pass would be a major drag.
Winter camping at a ski resort - outdoor fireplace
(Photo/Ariel Frager)

Camping at Hoodoo’s Winter Carnival

Overnight camping at Hoodoo Ski Area is so popular that it offers a season camping pass for $1,200. Single-night reservations vary between $15 and $45 depending on the size of the site and if you’re using the available hookups or not.

Every year, during the last weekend of February, Hoodoo Ski Area holds its annual Winter Carnival. It’s an event complete with axe throwing, a pie-eating contest, games, music, snow sculpture contests, and a torchlight descent.

But the highlight at Hoodoo’s Winter Carnival is the Dummy Downhill contest. Participants make ski-worthy mannequins and launch them down the mountain. Timing a ski RV camping weekend to a community event is a fun way to enhance the experience and extend the party a little bit longer.

Other Ski Resorts That Allow Parking Lot Camping

Parking lot RV camping at a ski resort
(Photo/Ariel Frager)

I loved our RV camping trip to the parking lot at Hoodoo Ski Area so much that I started looking into which other resorts allow it. And there are a lot. Below you’ll find just a sample of them.

White Pass Ski Area, Naches, Washington

White Pass Ski Area hosts 83 RV camping spots in its parking lot and 50% of those are available each week. The other 50% are up for reservation before the season begins in the fall. To snag one of the coveted RV parking spots, sign on to the White Pass Reservation site at 9 p.m. on the Monday of the week you would like to camp. If White Pass is sold out, you can try neighboring RV sites at Cascade Peaks, 27 miles from White Pass, or Silver Beach only 9 miles away.

Whitewater Ski Resort, Nelson, British Columbia

Whitewater Ski Resort, just outside of the picturesque town of Nelson, British Columbia, averages nearly 40 feet of fresh snow annually. It’s a nirvana for powder hounds. Like many other ski resorts in the Pacific Northwest, Whitewater offers parking lot camping on a reservation-only basis. Self-contained RVs are welcome as no hookups are offered at Whitewater. The lodge is open daily from 8:15 a.m. until 4 p.m., and campers have overnight access to heated outhouses.

Grand Targhee Resort, Alta, Wyoming

Overnight RV parking is enthusiastically encouraged at Grand Targhee Resort in Alta, Wyoming. For $35 plus taxes and fees, you can sleep slopeside within walking distance of all resort amenities and chairlifts. Make sure to check in at the front desk at The Lodge to grab your parking permit.

Schweitzer Resort, Sandpoint, Idaho

Self-contained RV camping is free at Schweitzer Resort. There are a few rules to comply with. For example, parking is only allowed on the north side of the Gateway parking lot, there is a maximum of a 3-night stay, and campfires must be monitored at all times.

Stevens Pass, Skykomish, Washington

Stevens Pass uses a handy online reservation system for the 27 available RV parking spots in their lot. The hookups available at Stevens Pass are 30 amp only, so make sure to bring an adapter or rent one from the RV lot staff. Stevens Pass is notorious for extreme weather, so come prepared for power outages and intermittent cellular service.

Crystal Mountain Resort, Enumclaw, Washington

Seattle’s closest skiing can be found at Crystal Mountain Resort. It boasts 65 full electrical hookup sites that are reserved through the Roverpass online reservation system. The fees range from $65 to $125 a night depending on if you are using 30 or 50 amps of service and if you go during a peak holiday time.

Mt. Baker Ski Area, Bellingham, Washington

Powder hounds will love camping out in the parking lot at Mt. Baker Ski Area because it gets the most annual snowfall of any ski area in North America. The sites at Mt. Baker are primitive. So your camper or RV must be self-contained to enjoy all the fresh snow.

The Summit at Snoqualmie, Snoqualmie Pass, Washington

Live out your #vanlife dreams in the parking lot at The Summit at Snoqualmie ski area. Spaces are limited, reservations are required, and there are no hookups. But spaces only cost $40 a night.

Mt. Hood Meadows, Mt. Hood, Oregon

All you need is a self-contained RV and a Sno-Park Permit to camp overnight in the Sunrise lot at Mt. Hood Meadows. Early birds will snag one of the only 14 overnight parking spots and can hold onto the spot for 3 consecutive nights.

Mt. Bachelor Resort, Bend, Oregon

Wake up to the alpenglow when you spend the night at Mt. Bachelor. The resort charges $45-75 a night depending on the date and if your rig needs an electrical hookup. If you have to cancel, Mt. Bachelor no longer offers refunds.

Willamette Pass Resort, Crescent, Oregon

Willamette Pass is another Northwest ski resort that is located on U.S. Forest Land and offers parking lot camping mountain accommodations. Willamette Pass charges $10 for a self-contained RV and $20 a night if you need a hookup.

The Final Word

Just because you can’t afford (or don’t want to buy) a hotel room at the lodge, doesn’t mean you can’t have a slopeside staycation at a ski resort. Camping in their parking lots puts you at the lifts and makes for a more memorable weekend than any swanky hotel might offer.

We had a great time at the Hoodoo Winter Carnival, we made good friends and great memories, and we’ll be back to do it again. It’s the ski bum’s ultimate dream, and it’s within reach at a ton of different ski resorts.

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