It was an overcast Thursday afternoon when I cut out early from work and met up with my good buddies Sean, better known as “S.P.” and Mike, or “Mikey Mo”.
We were packing up to head out on our annual snowboard trip. Mikey had been hosting the yearly “big trip” for almost 10 years now. Every year, we change up the destination, hitting resorts in Colorado, B.C., Wyoming, Tahoe, and others. Every year, we have a good time and always enjoy ourselves regardless of snow condition. But this year was going to be a bit different. This year was going to be EPIC!
Enter the “Daddy Van”. A few months earlier, I had acquired an amazing 4x4 Sprinter camper van, that my 3-year-old son affectionately named the Daddy Van. (He also started calling all Sprinter vans Daddy vans from that point on, often pointing them out as we travelled along on family camping trips). The van was ready to go, with a diesel heater, room to sleep 4 people, and everything you need for family camping adventures and awesome road trips!
In years past on this trip, we had always been tied to a particular resort or small region. Again, we always had fun, but on several trips, the snow conditions were less than ideal. With hotels, flights, and lift ticket deals needing to be purchased in advance, the conditions were always a gamble and something you made the best of. But the van opened up a whole new world of options. This year, the three of us decided that we would do the opposite of years past by making absolutely no plan at all. Just a starting date, our gear, and a van. We would go where the snow was best and chase storms and powder riding as far as the van could take us. We dubbed this year’s trip “ The full Freedom trip”. In the months before the trip, we would often text each other at random times a picture of Mel Gibson in full Braveheart war paint with the subtext “Freeeeeedom!!” as we got more and more pumped for the upcoming trip.
Well, the day had finally come and in true gear head fashion, we left central California with about 3 times as much stuff as we actually needed. If there was any downside at all to this type of a trip, it was that not knowing what conditions you are going to encounter leads you to take the gear for all conditions. Do I need the heavy down jacket... yep. Do I take the big, deep snow powder board, or the low-tide, beater powder board... obviously both. But we were prepared as I rigged up a hitch mounted gear carrier out of a roof top Thule box mounted to a rear cargo tray that fit into the van's receiver hitch. This was finished off with a Rak-Attach swing away hitch attachment, so the whole set up could easily be swung out of the way to allow us to open the back doors of the van.
Day one found us with a loose plan to head north. Storms were expected to come in throughout the Pacific Northwest and into B.C. in the upcoming week, so that was the direction we were heading. On that first night, as the coffee and adrenaline of upcoming adventure started to wear off, we pulled into a flying J truck stop in Northern California around midnight. The lady at the convenience store told us “It’s pretty late, you boys are welcome to stay in the parking lot. Hell, all the truckers do it”. Can’t argue with that logic... Ah, the Glamours of Van Life! The parking lot did have a pretty awesome morning view of Mount Shasta though.
Another thing we had loosely decided on this trip was that unless the snow conditions dictated otherwise, we were going to try to stick to more out of the way, smaller, locals ski resorts instead of the big well known ones. The places where the people were friendly (and mostly local), the beers were cheaper, and the lift lines were short or non-existent. This plan ended up working out well for us as we pulled into the parking lot of Whitepass resort in Washington the next day. We spent the night at the base of the lifts for measly $15. A storm had come in about 2 days prior and the next day we were able to find multiple untouched tree stashes and some really good riding conditions.
Our next stop ending up being a quick meet up with some friends just outside of Spokane, Washington, who introduced us to their favorite breakfast spot: the Cottage Café. If you are a biscuits and gravy or chicken fried steak lover, I highly recommend it. Maybe it was the gravy induced food coma, or being caught up in the spirit of the freedom trip, but over breakfast we decided that we’d made it that far in a short time frame, why not push it all the way to Canada? The snow forecast was calling for storms coming in, the decision was made, and we were making our way to the Powder Highway! The Powder highway is a region of interior British Columbia in the Kootenay Rockies with multiple resorts known for steep terrain and lots of deep powder. Just what the doctor ordered.
The next 5 days were nothing short of the epic trip we had hoped for. We stayed 2 nights in the parking lot of Whitewater resort, outside the small town of Nelson B.C. This resort only has 3 lifts, but the terrain those lifts allow access to is absolutely mind blowing. Whitewater and the powder highway in general did not disappoint! We capped off this part of the trip with a day of Cat Riding that left us all with jelly for legs and huge smiles that wouldn’t disappear for days to come. If you ever get a chance to go to this part of the world, I can’t recommend it enough. The people are friendly, the small ski towns have great bars and restaurants, and almost all the resorts allow vans and campers to stay in their parking lots.
As is the nature of true Freedom, it is a fleeting thing, and a return to the world of responsibility is inevitable. On the way back home, we made our way to Mt. Hood Meadows and crashed the parking lot with another storm hitting just as we arrived. Unfortunately, this one ended up being a bit warm and turned to rain in the middle of the night. Waking up to a river running under the van, we decided to make tracks for home and try to hit some night riding in Shasta on the way. While on the road, Mikey saw a billboard that said “Hoodoo Resort, where legends are found”. None of us had ever heard of it before, but we were in a van on the road still embracing the freedom of having no real plan, so why not? A short 1 hour detour later and it ended up being some of the most fun night riding I’ve ever done. Not the steeps and big terrain of the powder highway, just a couple of friends having a blast on the last night of an amazing trip.
In the end, that was really what it was all about. The van provided the freedom to discover things and go places we wouldn’t have ever planned. To see a billboard and be able to take a detour to somewhere unknown. To go to Canada just because you can. For a brief time to experience the freedom of traveling with no plan, just going where the wind blows or the powder falls. As I drove the last miles home, I couldn’t help but drift into thoughts of the next trip, and soon being able to do these types of trips with my two young boys as they get a bit older. I can’t wait for the next one!