THERE'S SNOW PLACE LIKE MOTORHOME
Although you don't want to be stuck behind one on a bendy narrow mountain road, you've got to admit that travelling in your home on wheels for skiing, this winter, makes a lot of sense. If the thought of being on a plane and staying in hotels, rentals or Airbnb is worrisome even post-pandemic as who knows what new infections or mutations from Mars could start to circulate, then having your own motor bubble for transport and accommodation is an appealing option for future holidays. Which is why motorhome and campervan sales are currently going through the pop top roof.
Snowmads, Steve and Yvonne from the UK, who have been travelling to - and around - the mountains for over 20 years in their motorhome, give us the lowdown on the high mountain life wintering in a mobile home.
What motorhome do you have and why did you buy it?
Hymer A class B Line (7.5m long). We wanted a van for summer and winter with the aim to use it for skiing, so we looked for an A class motorhome (as opposed to flimsier C Class). A Class vans are generally built from the chassis upwards with all the plumbing internal, protecting them from adverse weather,and they are also built with thicker insulation giving full winterised protection to minus 10/20C.
We’ve spent many days below minus 15C all snuggly with our gas combi boiler keeping the blown air heating and water lovely and hot. Hymer at that time were the most affordable premium brand, high build quality with a civilised ensuite bathroom shower/toilet. We bought it second hand for £30,000 with the intention to either sell on if we didn’t enjoy ourselves or upgrade if we did, but we did neither as we loved the lifestyle and our home on wheels and she/he’s still going strong. To replace new, like for like, would now cost £130,000 and more but, normally, under-used second hand models can be picked up for anything from £10,000 to £100,000.
How many years have you been motorhoming during the ski season?
This will be our 20th year travelling. We set out in September 2002 and hung around France, Spain and Portugal. During the following January, after spending Christmas on the Spanish coast, we headed up towards Sierra Nevada ski resort, hired gear and stayed for weeks at a time.
On some weekends, when the resort became too busy, we would head back down and spend a few days either in Granada or the coast. We’ve never missed a ski season since, except for last year, 2020-2021 because of COVID.
Which ski resorts have you stayed in? Do you have a favourite?
Sierra Nevada, all over Andorra, the French Pyrenees and around Les Trois Vallées, Alpes Grand Serre, Vaujany, Alpe d’Huez, Les 2 Alpes, Serre Chevalier, Puy St Vincent, Bardonecchia, Courmayer, Aosta and every resort in the Milky Way.
We’ve also visited many places for skiing out of season such as every resort in Scotland, Zacopane Poland, Winterberg Central Germany, tiny resorts in Central Italy, also another overlooking Lake Garda. We even found a tiny resort in Montenegro.
Serre Chevalier is our favourite with five specific motor home parking areas of which four are a very short ski boot shuffle to the nearest lift. Other needs are also satisfied with local bars and restaurants. A short distance away is the historic City of Briancon and its comprehensive commercial areas. This is unique for a ski resort as most local towns/cities are generally 30/40km down a mountain.
Are you limited to which resorts you can visit with a 7.5m motorhome?
Size and accessibility have never been a problem (after all coaches drop off skiers daily/weekly in all resorts), although American RVs are frowned upon. However, motorhomes are not 4-wheel drive so invest in good all weather tyres. Snow chains and practising how they fit is a required skill, but in 20 years we’ve had the need for them no more than six or seven times.
Some places are easier than others, but nearly every ski resort in Europe has a designated motorhome parking area with varying degrees of facilities and costs, with all being close to lifts
Can you park up anywhere?
Motorhomers are welcomed in ski resorts, with nearly all designated parking areas positioned at the foot of ski lifts. Those that are not are, at worst, in walking distance or connected with a ski bus.
If you're on the road, travelling in the UK, wild camping (parking anywhere that’s not a camp or designated site) is generally frowned upon so we tend to head for pubs with a decent size car park, normally not a problem with the purchase of a pint or some grub,
Europe has a massive network of welcoming overnight parking areas. In France, Belgium, Switzerland head for 'aires de services'; in Germany and Austria look out for 'stellplatze'; and in Italy, 'sostas'. Everything is online now. Our favourite app is Serchforsites, which lists nearly every parking site in the whole of Europe.
What are the average site costs in ski resorts? Do you have to pre-book? And what facilities can you expect?
We’ve never booked a parking spot, there’s always room for one more. Costs and facilities vary wildly from no charge €0 for water, waste disposal and electricity up to as much as €20 per night including all combinations in between.
Very few resorts have no facilities, but generally there's at least somewhere to park so being self-sufficient is useful. But we’re noticing more and more resort parking areas now include a full set of modern facilities including electricity.
How self-efficient are you? Is the cold a potential problem?
We have solar panels that keep our Leisure Batteries topped up in sunnier weather and a quite neighbour-friendly portable generator for those snowy days.
As our van's water tanks are internal we keep our heating ticking over day and night on low and have never frozen up. Vans without this set up, as in the normal C Class type motorhome (the type generally with the over cab bed) find it difficult for long wintering so tend to not spend weeks at a time parked up during the extreme cold periods. But hardy types manage to cope.
In most vans, heating and cooking work by gas so knowing where to pick up bottles or fill up bulk tanks is important but again normally bottles are close by. The biggest problem with gas bottles are that they’re not standard, each country has different sizes, connections and regulators. In December, January and most of February, on average, we use a bottle a week.
Do you stay in one ski resort for the whole winter?
The beauty of having a motorhome is that you can up sticks when a resort gets too busy. Different countries have different school holiday times so there's always another resort that will be less mobbed. Christmas/New Year and late January to early March are the busiest times. We generally find Italian resorts quieter than the French Alps during these weeks. Or, if in Sierra Nevada, Spain we will pop down to the beach for a few weeks or up to Andorra. Early and late season are always good for avoiding crowds.
Where do you keep your skis and ski gear? And how do you warm ski boots?
It all fits in the motorhome's locker, which is huge. There's even hanging space for gear/clothing. And the locker is heated so no problems with boots being warm in the morning. The cheaper vans, though, have lockers but generally they aren’t heated,
Any practical tips for motorhome / campervan life in ski resorts?
Never pass an Aldi without stocking up as local shopping tends to be expensive in resorts. If it makes financial sense decamp to a nearby town, stock up and/or catch up with the laundry. Self service laundromats can be found in all sorts of places, petrol stations, shopping areas or, if you don’t mind the extra cost, try a laundry service, as all resorts have them to cater for the hospitality industry.
Is there room to swing / take a cat? Any issue with travelling with a pet?
Our cat, Charlie, isn’t fazed at all while travelling and often spends the journey sprawled out on top of the dash. He has a harness and lead and is very comfortable with them. We take him for walks and occasionally the bar or café and he seems more sociable when we’re away from home. When parked up he’s happy on his length of lead outside watching the world go by; he is quite intrigued by snow and tends to paw at it.
Finding vets has never been a problem, although once in Croatia we had to put our cat, Oscar in our backpack and jump on a scooter to find the nearest one. Generally, European vets are very efficient and much cheaper.
Before Brexit, it was a breeze to come and go but since, it has become more difficult and expensive. Charlie now has a French passport, which makes life easier. We have found DEFRA an amazing source of information and help.
What are your plans for this winter 2021-2022? Will your travelling in Europe be restricted post-Brexit with the Schengen ruling that you can only stay 90 in 180 days?
We now have French residency cards, so length of stay is not an issue. We'll be in Serre Che this coming winter for skiing and then travel around as usual, more than likely spending time in Italy and Greece. Eventually, we're hoping to buy a house in France but we'll always keep the motorhome to venture further afield.