It’s no secret that skiing and snowboarding are expensive sports. Between the lift tickets, gear, and overpriced yet tempting chili in a bread bowl, the costs stack up quickly–and that’s without factoring in lodging. Add a semi-decent, conveniently located condo or cabin into the mix, and your budget for a weekend ski trip can spike well over a grand. No thanks.
Luckily, many ski resorts allow car camping in designated areas, enabling Luno community members to “sleep for cheap” only a snowball’s throw from the chairlift. Below we’ll share a few tips for car camping in cold weather with ski and snowboard gear. If you’re already an expert ski bum, feel free to skip to the end of the article, where we’ll give you the lowdown on ten road trip-worthy ski resorts that cater to car campers.
How to Car Camp at Ski Resorts
Research Resorts Before Arrival
Double-check the resort website or call ahead to make sure that camping is indeed allowed at your destination of choice, as camping rules and regulations change with time. Next, check whether or not you need to reserve an overnight parking spot–most resorts require camping reservations and sell out on popular weekends and holidays. This pre-trip prep will also help you budget for your ski adventure: How much does car camping cost per night? Are there limits to how many nights you can camp? What facilities are available to car campers? Do your research!
Check the Weather
Will it be dumping snow? Sunny? Will temperatures be moderate? Or will it be -30°F overnight? Weather dictates your gear choices on the slopes, like what skis or goggles to use, and it should also dictate your approach to car camping. As your trip creeps closer, keep an eye on the weather.
Know Plow Schedules and Policies
If snow is stacking up, plow drivers may ask you to move your rig so that you don’t get plowed in–it’s in your best interest to oblige. Bring a shovel just in case you do get plowed in and need to dig your vehicle out. Last but not least, don’t leave gear outside overnight unless you don’t mind it pulverized by a plow blade.
Pee Jars and Bathroom Etiquette
No matter the season, it’s important to keep Leave No Trace principles close to heart when car camping. No one wants to stumble across your yellow snow—or worse–in the ski resort overnight lot. That said, most resorts that offer overnight camping have restrooms nearby–find out where the closest restrooms are and when they’re open. If it’s late at night and the restrooms aren’t open, or it’s blizzarding and you don’t want to leave the comfort of your Luno lounge, a pee jar–and pee funnel for women–is essential. You can use a pee jar without leaving your warm sleeping bag in the middle of the night, then dump it into a toilet later on. Lastly, speaking of Leave No Trace: be sure to pick up after your pets in the parking lot, too.
Wet Gear Storage
The hardest aspect of car camping at ski resorts isn’t staying warm–it’s staying dry. Wet and sweaty gear is damn near impossible to dry out in a compact space like an SUV, so you want to be extremely careful of how you stash your skis, boards, and wet gear. Here are a few helpful systems worth implementing:
- Skis and Boards Stay Outside — Unless you have a built-out bed platform, chances are storing snowboards and skis inside your vehicle is a recipe for disaster. After scraping snow and ice from ski and snowboard bases and top sheets, stash gear in a locked roof box or roof rack. If you don’t have this option, you can consider storing skis and boards under your car–though they’ll obviously be more susceptible to opportunistic theft.
- Boot Liners in the Bottom of the Bag — Wet boot liners can freeze overnight, and frozen boot liners are uncomfortable at best. Worst-case scenario, they can lead to frostbite. The cure? Stash damp boot liners inside your sleeping bag overnight. It’s not five-star living, but chances are your liners will be dry in the morning–and if they are a little damp, at least they won’t be frozen. We’ll often stash smaller items, like socks and gloves, at the bottom of our sleeping bag, too.
- Extra Layers Are Lifesavers — You know what’s a real wet noodle? A wet kit. We like to hang wet gear inside overnight using clothes hangers, but this isn’t a foolproof method for drying clothes in colder conditions. Whether you’re camping for a weekend or a month, we highly recommend you bring an extra set of base layers and outerwear.
- Take Advantage of Sunshine — If your trip’s far from over and your clothes are starting to smell like a ski shop’s boot rentals after a holiday weekend, consider skipping the last few runs on a sunny afternoon. Instead, rig a makeshift clothesline in the parking lot, then let your long johns dance in the wind.
Waxing and Maintenance
It’s always a sharp idea to sharpen your blades before battle. Get your weapons tuned up and hit them with hot wax before you hit the road. While it’s possible to bring a waxing iron and run it off your car or auxiliary battery, this is overkill for all but the most disciplined of powderhounds. Instead, bring along some rub-on wax as a quick fix–we’re big fans of Mountain Flow EcoWax’s sustainable yet speedy Quick Wax, and we always travel with two tins: one for cool temps and one for warm temps. Additionally, we like to have a toolkit and spare parts on hand, too, in case a binding busts, you need to touch up your edges, etc. In the event of a more serious issue, like a deep core shot or delamination, you can always visit the resort’s ski shop.
To Quiver or Not to Quiver?
One of the best parts about driving to ski instead of flying is that you have room for more toys. Bring a quiver. If it dumps, you’ll be happy to have your powder tools on hand. If the resort is crowded, maybe it’s an opportune time to explore the backcountry (assuming you have safety gear, partner, knowledge, etc.). If space is tight, be smart about your gear picks: For instance, bring two boards–an all-mountain board and powder board, or a park board and an all-mountain board–but only one pair of bindings.
Hot Food is Heaven Sent
Some resorts have plentiful dining options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner–others, not so much. We like to splurge on the occasional meal on the mountain, but usually, we’re stoked to chow down in the lot. We recommend easy, hot meals, like oatmeal in the morning or ramen with eggs and veggies for dinner.
Make Sure Your Sleep System is Winter-Ready
Are you prepared to car camp in the winter? We’ve written entire articles about how to achieve negative-temp nirvana while spending the night in your SUV, but here are a few essential tips:
- Get a Warm Sleeping Bag — We recommend at least a 0°F bag. You won’t regret having a -10 or even -20°F bag, either. Yes, it’s an expensive investment, but it’s well worth it. Besides, a winter-ready sleeping bag costs about as much as a couple of nights in a decent ski condo, and you’ll get to use it for years to come.
Hot Water Bottle Hack — Boil water before bed and pour it into a Nalgene. After tightening the lid—and checking it for leaks—pop the Nalgene into your sleeping bag. Push it to the bottom of your bag to warm up your feet (and boot liners), or tuck it between your thighs to warm up your core. Another benefit of this old mountaineer’s trick is that you’ll have water that isn’t frozen solid in the morning.
Pro tip: get two half-liter Nalgenes, fill them with boiling water, and tuck them into your boot liners overnight. It’ll help them dry out.
- Intelligent Insulation — Insulate your vehicle windows with Reflectix cut-outs, and secure the cut-outs to the windows with tape or magnets. Windows leak heat and even a thin layer of Reflectix makes a big difference.
Looking for more cold-weather camping tips? Check out our complete guide here.
Ten Road Trip-Worthy Ski Resorts That Allow Overnight Camping
Ikon Pass-holders, rejoice! No pass gets car campers as close to the action as the Ikon. Our advice? Link a few of these resorts together for a legendary road trip.
Crystal Mountain Resort, Washington
While you may be able to get away with parking overnight in one of Crystal’s overflow lots, we don’t recommend it, as resort policy states overnight campers are required to book RV spots. Check out Crystal’s RV parking page here and reserve on Roverpass. Pricing is as low as $45 per night and higher on holidays. Note: holiday weekends, like Presidents’ Weekend, require three-night bookings.
Summit at Snoqualmie, Washington
With no hookups on site, Snoqualmie is a little less friendly to the RV crowd, but it’s perfect for Luno life. Spots must be reserved online and cost $35 per night. You’ll camp in Lot 3 (Alpental) or Summit Central (Ski Patrol lot), and bathrooms are accessible while the lifts are cranking. Be aware: Snoqualmie limits stays to three nights per week.
There’s no charge to crash at Idaho’s Schweitzer Mountain–but be careful before you plan a month-long road trip, as stays are limited to three consecutive nights. More info here.
Mount Bachelor, Oregon
Want to spend the night but don’t need electricity? Bachelor has your back, with non-powered spaces $20 cheaper than their hooked-up counterparts. SUVers and vanlifers are looking at $40 per weeknight, $50 per weekend and holiday night. Note: there’s a two-night minimum for weekend and holiday bookings. More information and reservations here.
Steven’s Pass, Washington
Epic Pass-holders don’t exactly have an epic amount of car camping-friendly resorts to choose from, but that’s okay, as all signs point to Washington’s beloved Steven’s Pass. Pricing starts at $49 per night, and online reservations are required. Take a look and book here.
No Pass? No Problem.
Maybe you don’t have an Ikon Pass, or an Epic Pass, or any pass at all. Maybe you just want to pass the time chasing powder from mountain pass to mountain pass. If that’s the case, look no further than these camping-friendly resorts from Montana to Washington.
Wolf Creek, Colorado
Not only does Wolf Creek boast the most snow in Colorado, but it also has the fewest Gucci stores–we’re looking at you, Aspen. This mom-and-pop mountain is the perfect destination for car campers hunting for an off-the-beaten-track, old-school adventure. Camp overnight in the overflow lot, no purchase necessary. Visit Wolf Creek’s endearingly archaic website here.
Dodge Ridge, California
Located smack dab between Lake Tahoe and Yosemite, Dodge Ridge is a small but sparkling gem of the Sierras. If unpretentious vibes and untracked snow sound like a good time, give this underrated resort a visit after the next snowstorm. Free, first-come, first-serve camping and vault toilets are available at Pioneer Trail. More info here.
Mt. Baker, Washington
The crown jewel of Cascadia, Mt. Baker is high on the bucket list of any skier or rider who appreciates deep powder. The resort recommends you arrive before 7 pm due to the propensity for pow to pile up on the roads. Starting at a mere $5 a night, you can camp for up to a week straight in the White Salmon lot or Heather Meadows lot. Learn more about this affordable ski-in, ski-out option here and book on Roverpass.
Whitefish Mountain Resort, Montana
Score Whitefish Mountain Resort on an uncrowded powder day, and you’ll be tempted to move to Montana. Tourists can test the waters with a three-day stay in the Aspen Lot for a reasonable $15 per day. There are no reservations here; rather, it’s first-come, first-served. More info here.
Grand Targhee Resort, Idaho
A gateway to the gorgeous Tetons, this low-key Idaho operation is easy to love, especially for backcountry skiers and splitboarders who enjoy sidecountry access. For $28 per day, you can turn the Targhee lot into a bona fide base camp for a maximum of one week. Rules, regulations, and booking info are available here.
Consider these ten resorts a jumping-off point. Do some more digging, and you’ll find additional resorts that offer overnight camping in one capacity or another. Furthermore, even resorts that don’t offer overnight parking on-site are often adjacent to world-class car camping in surrounding national forests and BLM land areas. Regardless of where the road takes you this winter, we hope you score deep snow and good times, and we’re grateful to be along for the ride.