My older brother Scott and I just got back from what was, at least for us, a pretty big trip. It was our fourth annual winter van trip: three weeks, our shared 1985 VW van, and 4,000 miles chasing waves and snow from Ventura, CA, to Salt Lake City, to Wyoming, through Montana, up to British Colombia, over to Vancouver Island, and through the PNW on our way back home.
It was our forth year doing this particular trip and it truly felt like the best one we’ve ever done. Maybe it was extra special because we are older, wiser, and more grateful. Maybe it was special because our corporate jobs can sometimes be a grind. Or maybe it was special because times are crazy with insane politics, wildfires, mudslides, and mass shootings all happening right outfront our doorstep. Whatever it was, my point is that it simply felt extra special to be on the road for three weeks with my brother, freezing our asses off in the van, skiing, surfing, and completely disconnected from our jobs, lives, and responsibilities.
Here are some of the stories and highlights.
Part 1: Getting Ready
Packing for a trip is the absolute best. I get so stoked visualizing the trip, the gear we’ll need, and then getting it all ready. Plus, when the trip involves skiing, surfing, and super cold temps, you get to bring all of the toys.
Part 2: Salt Lake City, UT
From Ventura, we headed toward Salt Lake City which would be our first destination and the easiest leg of the journey. By that I mean, dry roads, mild temps, Whole Foods stops along the way, and plenty of spots to pull over and sleep.
Upon arrival in SLC, we met up with some friends who live in town. We discussed skiing options and decided that groomers at Deer Valley would be a great way to warm up the legs and break in our new Volkl M5 Mantras.
When the sun goes down, our 1985 VW turns into an ice chest. It hardly has heat, definitely has no insulation, and cold air comes in through every crack. It gets so cold overnight, that each morning we would wake up and scrape ice off the INSIDE of the windshield and all of the windows. And to stay warm after skiing, we’d immediately throw on our matching down jackets and scope out the food/shopping scene where we knew the heat would be blasting.
Truth be told, the Ikon Pass was a game changer for our trip and literally doubled our days on snow compared to years past. I don’t mean to bash the Mountain Collective, but it boils down to this: the Mountain Collective gets you two days at all of these resorts and the Ikon Pass gets you seven, if not more. That is a ton of skiing and gave us the flexibility to either drive all morning and try to ski in the afternoon, or vice versa, take a few runs in the morning and then drive all day/night.
Overall in Utah, we skied Deer Valley, Snowbird, and Alta and we actually skied all three resorts in one single day just for the novelty of it. We called it the ‘Triple Crown of Utah’ and it was a fantastic way to end our trip. In addition, Scott kicked my ass on the Nastar course but I don’t want to talk about that.
Part 3: Jackson Hole, WY
Jackson is where the trip really began and where it actually started to feel like winter with colder temps, bigger mountains, deeper snow, and the potential for serious winter driving conditions.
Over the last few years, we’ve developed a close connection to Jackson Hole, mostly through our good friend Nate Carey, the Teton Wrench. Nate is an incredible guy who runs a mobile bike repair shop out of his van and coaches youth mountain bike teams in the summer then switches to teaching skiing in the winter once the snow drops. Nate has been incredibly generous, showing us the ins and outs of the whole Jackson zone. From introducing us to his boot fitter, Matt Sheets, advising us on gear, taking us to his favorite backcountry stashes, or sharing his super secret stealth camping spots in the village, Nate has really helped us out a lot. He even put us through some fun ski drills which was pretty sweet considering it costs several hundred dollars a day to ski with him in a Jackson Hole Ski School uniform.
In terms of skiing, we didn’t get into the backcountry due to poor stability but the hill was skiing super fun despite being early season conditions. We had a few inches here/there and managed to find a few fresh tracks as well.
Jackson is a hard place to leave but after a few days of skiing and dirtbagging in Teton Village, we made the hard decision to hit the road. There were a lot destinations we wanted to visit so in some sense, we couldn’t stay anywhere for too long.
Part 4: Montana
On past trips we skied Whitefish on our way up to BC, but this year with the Ikon Pass, we had seven days at Big Sky, so that was an obvious place to point our GPS. En route, I hit up some friends, two of the most legist and well educated snow people I’ve ever met. Eric Knoff is an Avalance Forecaster at the Montana Avalanche Center. And Gabrielle Antonioli is currently finishing her Masters Degree in Snow Science from Montana State University, one of the few women in the program (if not the only one). We thought it was unlikely that we ‘d actually get to meet up with Gabrielle and/or Eric, but sure enough, they invited us to tag along for some ‘field work’. So, we skied Big Sky for a few days before meeting up with Eric and Gabrielle for some backcountry.
Big Sky was awesome. It has some of the best inbounds terrain I’ve experienced.
Big Sky is known for big rocks, and Scott was bound to encounter a few. Sure enough, he blew out the edge of his brand new skis on some hidden rocks. The poor guy was so bummed that he ruined his first new pair of skis in 15 years. That is, until we met Brit Barnes, the master Ski Technician at a world class tuning and repair shop using state of the art Wintersteiger machines. As described by Powder Magazine, Brit “has been repairing skis that have been disemboweled by Big Sky rocks for 15 years”. Long story short, Brit saved the day. He fixed Scott’s ski, threw in a tune for me, and got us back on our way.
Next up was our big day with Eric, Gabrielle and their friend Beau Fredlund who is a ski guide. The three of them were an incredible wealth of knowledge and experience. Not only do they rip, but they have such a thorough understanding of the area and the snowpack. The dangers of backcountry are no joke so we deeply appreciate this group’s regard for safety.
As an Avalanche Forecaster by profession, we were stoked to learn a few things from Eric. It was pretty cool to dig a snow pit with him and do a full analysis of the snowpack.
Overall, Montana stole my heart. We met/reconnected with some great people, found some fantastic snow, and celebrated Scott’s 36th birthday with two huge buckets of fried chicken.
Part 5: British Colombia
Only 2,500 miles away from Ventura, Revelstoke represents as far from home as we would get on this trip. It was our fourth time driving to Revelstoke, so we were pretty dialed. We couldn’t wait for butter chicken from Paramjits Kitchen and we were super stoked to link up with siblings Leah and Brodie Evans. Unfortunately, Leah couldn’t join us, but Brodie and his friends took us out for the day of our lives. We drove out of town, parked the rigs, hopped on snowmobiles, motored up a fire road, and proceeded to skin up through an old growth forest to the summit of a peak where we would follow these guys and girls into the BC powder that dreams are made of. It was their local spot and it was an absolute privilege to join them.
Part 6: Vancouver Island/PWN
After a few days in Revvy, we had 13 hard days of skiing under our belts. Our legs were beat and our time on the road was inevitably winding down. It would have been easier to skip Vancouver Island and surfing altogether, but we didn’t each bring two surfboards and thick winter wetsuits for no reason.
In the end, the trip went off without a hitch. Being on the road like that is a dream come true and I am grateful for the opportunity, my brother, the van not breaking down, and especially for the amazing people who shared their special places with us.