There is an area of the United States where the term ski resort should be followed by an asterisk. Stretching from southern Oregon to northern Washington, the Pacific Northwest and its Cascade Range plays home to some of the best ski destinations in the U.S.—except that most wouldn't fit the resort M.O. Many of these 'resorts' are built on leased National Forest land, meaning the areas have very tight development restrictions. The result? A few bars, next to no restaurants, and very little on-mountain accommodations.
While this may seem like a bummer, it has also given birth to a unique solution to the overnight access issue: The RV lot. At almost every one of the big resorts in the Pacific Northwest, a parking lot is dedicated to motor home overnighters ranging from hardcore powderhounds to resourceful families on a budget. When the bars shut down (and it's usually early) the party moves to the parking lot, where grills ignite and fire pits light up. When the morning light comes through the shades of the Winnebago, just roll out of bed and walk outside of your slopeside motor carriage and get a jump on the weekend crowds. If you have a motor home and fiend for first tracks, the RV lot is where it's at.
I wanted to learn a little more about the logistics associated with camper life, so I rolled up to Crystal Mountain in Washington to talk with a real lot local. Drawn in by the neon Rainier beer sign in the front window of a Pace Arrow, I wandered into an open door to find Bill Zorres. A machine shop employee from nearby Enumclaw, Zorres drove Cletus, his '83 Arrow, up every weekend to stay slopeside for cheap, party with buddies, and snowboard. He had bought the rig for $1500 from a friend that had quit the band, gotten married, and ditched the RV life. Over a beer he admitted it wasn't a five-star setup, but that he was more than happy with the upside. Here are some of Zorres' favorite Cletus features as well as a few tips for making the RV lot the ultimate ski and snowboard accommodation.
Cletus the 1983 Pace Arrow
-Designed to sleep 5, "but usually sleeps way more"
-Shag carpet, aka the 6th bed
-Rockstar Beer Fridge
-Neon Rainier beer sign from Crystal Saloon in Enumclaw
-Surround sound speakers from the house connected to flat screen with "Out Cold" on cue
-Microwave, for late night culinary creations
-Mason Jars with straw and cap, "fool poof, and drunk proof"
1. Don't buy an old rig if you're not prepared (skill-wise or wallet-wise) to fix it. These machines get used hard, and tend to break down a lot.
2. Learn to become a microwave chef. I have a stovetop and an oven, but propane can be finicky and the micro is quick, clean, and easy.
3. Don't break the golden rule: If that chili from last night isn't sitting well, you better be willing to hoof it up to the lodge, because blowing up the toilet is not an option in such close quarters.
4. When it's an option, always pay a little extra for the electric hookup. That way you can keep the cabin warm at night with electric heat instead of wasting valuable propane.
5. Hang up your clothes anywhere you can. Bunched up wet clothes is the recipe for mildew, foul smells, and unhappy campers in the morning.