The Pacific Northwest prides itself on rugged self-reliance and an enthusiasm for the outdoors, but did you know it was possible to camp in a ski resort parking lot? With so many Northwest ski resorts located on Forest Service land and with nearby affordable accommodations in short supply, many area ski resorts allow camping in the parking lot. In fact, nearly every major ski area in Oregon and Washington allows this practice, as do ski areas in Idaho, Wyoming and British Columbia. This unique RV camping culture often features après-ski activities like bonfires, snow fort building and an invitation to join the ultimate ski bum community.
My family and I piled into a Winnebago Minnie Winnie we rented from Happy Campers located in Bend, Oregon, to partake in this most excellent RV-to-ski adventure. As part of the rental process, we received a master class in all things RV-related and necessary since it was our first time ever commandeering a camper van.
Measuring just under 25 feet, the Minnie Winnie was small enough to easily maneuver up Santiam Pass and to back into our designated camping spot in the parking lot at Hoodoo Ski Area. The four of us, including me, my 11-year-old son, my partner and our dog, took in the scene. Recreational vehicles of all shapes and sizes were there: vans, big RVs, a converted school bus, trucks with camper tops and pop-up travel trailers lined the outer ring of the parking lot. Our dog Kima helped us meet our neighbors and their canine family members on Friday afternoon as the weekend crowd started setting up camp and indulging in happy hour snacks and drinks.
We chatted with Carrie and Ray Fiori of Philomath, Oregon, standing around their propane fireplace nestled in the space between two parked RVs. The Fioris bring their kids, Laila, age 7 and Red, age 5, up to Hoodoo every single weekend and have done so for the past four years. This family of shredders regularly skis all day long, grabbing first tracks as the lifts open at 9 a.m. They chill at their RV for lunch and dinner breaks and then return to the slopes for night skiing, ending their hard-charging day at 9 p.m. when the lifts finally close.
Overnight camping at Hoodoo Ski Area is so popular that they offer a season camping pass for $1,200, if you are lucky enough to snag one. Single night reservations vary between $15 to $45. depending on the size of the site and if you are using the available hookups or not.
Because of a cold snap in Oregon when we went, we took the Minnie Winnie out without any water due to concerns that the system would freeze. We could still use the bathroom, but we had to pour a bit of antifreeze down into the onboard cassette toilet after each use. The waterless shower turned out to be the perfect spot to store our skis. We brought along a five-gallon jug we always take when summer camping for our cooking and drinking needs.
I woke up so early on Saturday morning that the day use parking lot was completely empty. Kima delighted in racing all over the snow-covered lot, chasing crows, searching for scraps and greeting the day as only a big mountain dog can. Our family had a hot breakfast in the RV and got ready for our day on the mountain. I stepped out of the RV, clicked into my bindings and made my way over the short 500-foot distance to the chair lift. It was the easiest and most satisfying ski commute I have ever had.
The Northwest had a number of late season storms, and our weekend at Hoodoo was both snowy and cold, a rather unusual combination in our corner of the country. The resulting powder was the best I have skied in Oregon in the past decade. After several hours of traversing the mountain, we returned to our mobile home to visit the dog, eat a hot lunch and I grabbed a quick cat nap before heading back out.
The après-ski scene in the Hoodoo parking lot was welcoming and friendly. We chatted again with Carri and Ray, watching their kids bury themselves in the snowbank. “This is as good as it gets in Oregon. We have made our best friends here in the parking lot,” Carri said. Drinks in hand, my husband, dog and I wandered down the line of RVs, chatting with our new friends, happily tired from an epic day.
Tips for Ski Resort Camping
- Check to make sure your rig can handle the cold. Clean your onboard furnace before you head out. Keeping your water system functioning will be the most important consideration for cold weather winter camping. It’s a good idea to insulate the pipes and keep water dripping while camping in cold weather. Drain the water system if the temperatures will be much below freezing because frozen water will expand and could burst your pipes.
- Keeping warm when winter camping is essential. Sites with electric plug-ins are preferable for cold weather RVing. Propane heaters are notoriously unreliable below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Bring various ways to generate heat like rugs for the floor, an electric space heater, extra blankets, propane outdoor fireplaces, wood for a bonfire and warm coats.
- Bring towels to clean the floors. You will track snow into the RV which will quickly turn to puddles. Towels are helpful for wiping up the wet floors and snowy paws.
- Most ski area camping spots are reservation only. Be sure to reserve your spot well in advance of heading to the mountains.
This article, written by Ariel Frager, first appeared in the Winter 2023 issue of Girl Camper Magazine.
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