Stay the night and you'll be richly rewarded in the morning.
Stay the night and you'll be richly rewarded in the morning. (Photo: Scott Markewitz/Aurora Photos)
Gear Guy

What Gear Do I Need to Crash Camp in a Ski Area Parking Lot?

Here’s everything you need to ensure you don’t freeze at night and are ready for first tracks the next morning

Skiers at night in a snow storm returning  from a day of snowcat skiing in the Mustang Powder Cats ski mountain area, BC, Canada.

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There are several ways to chase powder. You can get up at 4 a.m. and drive to the ski area to make sure you’re first in line. Or, even better, you can car camp overnight at the ski area (if it allows such a thing), which eliminates the drive time and guarantees fresh tracks. To find out what you’ll need to sleep comfortably below the lifts, I called Cheryl Kochevar, who’s been crashing in ski area parking lots for nearly four decades. Most recently, she and her husband, John, worked as host managers at Washington’s Crystal Mountain, where lots of powder chasers spend the night. They sleep in an RV, but Kochevar gladly provided gear tips for those of us sleeping in our cars. Here are her top 10 gear picks to make the process more comfortable. 

#1: Roof Box

Kochevar says this should be your first investment because it’s the best way to maximize storage inside a car. The box won’t keep anything from freezing, of course, but it will keep all your gear dry if it’s dumping snow (we can hope). I like the Yakima SkyBox 16 Carbonite. It will store long skis and has enough room for multiple ski kits.

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#2: LED Lights

Kochevar suggests LED lights because they last a long time in the cold. I’ve used the Princeton Tec Amp 1L W/Bottle Opener and Cone 45-lumen LED light. It hangs like a lantern from my rearview mirror and illuminates my entire car. Bonus: it doubles as a bottle opener.

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#3: Insulation for the Car

You’ll need a good sleeping bag, of course, but Kochevar recommends adding extra insulation to your car if you want to sleep comfortably when it’s brutally cold outside. The most low-tech setup might include a thick foam pad, which will get you off the cold car seat. I swear by my cushy and nearly indestructible Paco Pad. For more advanced crashers, Kochevar suggests lining your car—windows and ceiling—with reflective insulation. You can get a roll at Home Depot for $22.

#4: Ice Chest

“An ice chest will keep your food from freezing solid,” Kochevar says. It’s also a key piece of gear to keep your water from turning to ice, so you can drink and cook with it. The Coleman 16-Quart Excursion Cooler is a great budget option at $23 and has enough space for a weekend’s worth of food.

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#5: Cooking Stove

You’ll need coffee for fuel during a long day in the snow. Kochevar says Jetboils are favorites up at Crystal because they’re compact and efficient. I suggest the Sumo—it boils water lightning fast but has a 1.8-liter capacity so you can make several cups at a time and share with your neighbors.

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#6: Alternative Power Source

If you’re staying for multiple days and don’t want to run the car to power your gadgets, Kochevar says you might consider a small generator like the Briggs and Stratton P2000 Powersmart. Warning: some resorts don’t allow generators; check the rules first. Also, make sure your generator isn’t so loud that it wakes up the neighbors.  

#7: Electric Heater

When it’s really cold, you’ll need a heat source so you’re not miserable, Kochevar says. Propane heaters run through fuel quickly when it’s cold. She suggests an electric unit like the Insignia Ceramic Heater, which won't set your car on fire if you accidentally knock over in the middle of the night. You can run it off your generator, but some resorts like Crystal also offer places to plug in.

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#8: Tarp

If you cover the upper half of your car with a large tarp, Kochevar says, you can crack your windows without letting snow in. It might seem counterintuitive, but you’ll need to crack your windows to allow moisture to escape. Otherwise, you’ll wake up and everything will be soaked.  

#9: Full-Size Shovel

If it’s really dumping, you’ll have to dig your car out, and doing this with an avalanche shovel sucks. Kochevar recommends a full-size snow or garden shovel with a metal scoop. It’ll also help if your car gets buried by a passing plow, which sometimes happens in parking lots.

#10: Sand

Parking lots often turn into ice rinks, as snow packed down by tires during the day freezes at night. Even if you have a 4WD vehicle, it can be hard to get out of a parking spot. Put sand under your tires from sandbags like these from Uline to add traction. Kochevar doesn’t like kitty litter because it turns the parking lot into a soggy mess.

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Lead Photo: Scott Markewitz/Aurora Photos

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