All Photos by Andy Cochrane and Johnie Gall.
Some people dream of tropical vacations and cheap mai tais. I dream of cowboy coffee and deep powder turns. (If you’re reading this, you might like these things too.)
For context, I’ve spent the last handful of years living out of the back of my Tacoma, working as a freelance writer and photographer for a swath of brands and publications. Work projects and personal trips have dragged me to hundreds of places across the western U.S., often in rapid succession.
Despite a few odd questions from my mom, and more than a few weird looks from strangers, I consider myself lucky. The opportunity to travel freely and play outside often is something I try to not take for granted.
During the winter my lifestyle mostly conforms to storm cycles, following powder from the Front Range to the Sierra and up to the Cascades. While many things in the ski industry have evolved in the last few years—gear is fancier, lift lines are longer, and backcountry touring is en vogue—the dirtbag culture persists. If nothing else, my truck odometer is sufficient proof. I average over 40,000 miles each year.
The pros and cons of chasing snow are pretty clear—the lack of normalcy in exchange for a surplus of stoke. However, the how of chasing snow is a bigger challenge.
The first step is the right mindset. If you’re willing to skip a few showers, sleep in a few parking lots, and eat a lot of oatmeal, then congratulations, you’ve mastered the prerequisites. Now, where the heck do you start?
While there is no Bible for this type of lifestyle, I’m here to offer a few helpful hints to make your next winter a bit more enjoyable.
Invest In the Right Rig
Salt, ice and snow are universally rough on vehicles. Getting stuck is a pain in the butt. Very few vehicles are manufactured with icy roads in mind. Thus, reliability is at an absolute premium. I’m an unwavering advocate of Toyota and their bulletproof designs. I log three-times more miles than your average driver and do much of this on rough roads.
To date, I’ve had only minor issues with my Tacoma. I rely on the 4-wheel drive, AT tires and a 3-inch lift to keep me safe. This extra grip and clearance helps me get to more far-flung places, too.
Find a Job That Allows You to Work Remote
Sure, I realize it’s naive to think that anyone can do this. Heck, I even started out as a weekend warrior with a 9-to-5 and have gradually progressed from a cubicle to mostly off the grid. That’s to say, working remote rarely happens overnight.
I now work full-time as a freelancer, and time has become fairly relative. With a cell booster and a comfortable bed to work in, I often tour all day and crank on my laptop at night. This work/life balance isn’t for everyone and it requires a lot of planning and time management, but does offer more freedom than anything else I’ve experienced.
Cut the Costly Expenses
If you took a look at my bank statement you wouldn’t see any hotel bills or many nights on the town. Further, I exclusively buy used gear, pack PB&J sandwiches instead of planning on apres, and limit the stuff I buy to whatever can fit in the truck. I did buy an IKON pass (at an early bird rate) and have enjoyed a lot of inbound days, but refuse to buy day tickets at normal rates.
If you’re willing to cook your own meals, fix your own gear, and avoid splurging on draft beers at bars, you’ll be able to cut your costs dramatically. It’s not rocket science, but can be surprisingly hard follow through with.
Trust the Forecasters
While weathernmen are notoriously inaccurate, avalanche forecasters are your saving grace. Most of them that I’ve met over the years wake up around 4 a.m. to read reports, make their own observations, and offer the public thorough information by the time most of us are inhaling our first cup of coffee.
Nine times out of 10 they are right, which keeps you safer while allowing you to have more fun. This small network of men and women work diligently—and selflessly—to the betterment of all backcountry users. I, for one, can’t thank them enough.
Find Comfy Places to Sleep
Sleep in the back of your truck, or even on a friend’s couch, whenever possible. This allows you to save money (see above) and also grants first tracks. Many resorts allow you to sleep in the parking lot—but some do not, so check ahead. Staying warm is hard without quality insulation. During the winter I sleep on a 4-inch foam pad, often in two sleeping bags.
I’ve also insulated my LEER cap with extra Reflectix insulation on the top and sides. With all these layers I’m able to sleep pretty comfortably in temperatures well into the double digit negatives.
To find new places to sleep I use the iOverlander app which I’ve found to be accurate most of the time.
Organization Is Key
As with any tiny space, living out of a car gets messy fast. Having a dialed system for your stuff will help you do more and stress less. I keep all of my kitchen stuff on a Bedslide drawer under my bed and all my camping gear in a Thule box top.
I travel with a small amount of clothes and amenities, all of which have a carefully designed spot in the front of my truck. To some this may sound like extreme O.C.D., and that’s fine with me. Keeping my gear ready means I get to do more skiing and exploring, which is my bottom line.