8 Reasons We Fell in Love with the Peace Van

She says: We recently took an amazing trip to the beautiful Olympic Pennisula in a 1987 VW Westfalia from Peace Vans, a rental company in Seattle. It was our first real taste of what Van Life might feel like, and I think we’re in love. Of course, it didn’t suck that the mid-March weather was spectacular, which you can see in the photo below from our stellar site at Kalaloch Beach. Here are 8 reasons we love the Peace Van.

van life, peace van, westfalia
Kalaloch Beach campground has a few spots right on the bluff. This one’s D-33.

1. Peace Out

After an excellent tutorial at Peace Van HQ on all the features of this retro rig — thanks, Jimmer! — we hit the highway, and soon we were getting flashed the peace sign from cars coming in the other direction. So groovy! That’s the universal way to say hey when you’re behind the wheel of these beloved vehicles.

Peace Vans, van life
Bring on the tie dye! Leslie Kelly photo

2. Shockingly Comfy

We got the 411 on popping the top. It’s easy! Getting it back down and all the fabric tucked in is more of a two-person job, but we handled that. And while the top bunk is designed for sleeping, it was a little too cold for that this trip. Plus, you’ve got to do some gymnastics to get up there. And we like to drink wine around the campfire — Lange Estate Winery Pinot noir from Oregon was the fave on this trip — so, hopping up top seemed a little bit like an accident waiting to happen. Next time!

We kept the bed out most of the trip because it was easy. Leslie Kelly photo

3. There’s a Place for Everything

Talk about downsizing! It’s an amazing challenge to keep it as tight as this snug space allows, but we made it work. The plastic bins the Peace Van team loads up with kitchen essentials, including condiments, spices, and a French press felt just about right. Not too much, or too little.

vanlife, cooking, food
Plastic bins help keep everything organized. Leslie Kelly photo

4. Two Burners are Plenty

I’m typically a messy cook who covers every surface of the kitchen, but this setup forced me to dial it way back. The two-burner cooktop inside worked like a champ. I scrambled eggs and made coffee in the morning, and in the evening, we used the powerful Coleman stove to sear steaks and grill bratwurst. Brilliant!

coleman stove, grilling, outdoor cooking
Bavarian Meats bratwurst and Olsen Farms potatoes for the WIN! Leslie Kelly photo

5. The Way the Bedroom Doubles as a Living Room

Once Johnny figured out how to swivel the passenger seat around — on the last night — we tucked the bed back into its couch form and — boom! Suddenly it felt like we had a whole lot of room. Might be different if it was pouring rain for days and we were stuck inside, but this was a very cool revelation.

Living room, bedroom, office, we were surprised by how roomy it felt. Leslie Kelly photo

6. No More Wet Tent

We’ve camped plenty in the rain, and even when it’s not dripping, there’s usually heavy dew. The weather turned nasty on that last night, and it was such a pleasure not to have to stake down the rain fly on a tent. Raindrops falling on the roof of a heated camper van sounded pretty sweet.

7. It Started Some Great Conversations

We enjoyed talking with fellow Peace Van fans, especially the mom and daughter we met at Peace Vans HQ in SEA. They were from Toronto and so pumped to explore the west coast, from Vancouver Island down to Cali. Randomly, we ran into them on our last night out, parked three spots away! So fun!!

8. They Make Road Trippin’ Extra Fun and Easy

On this chapter of Our Grand Tour, we went places we’d been before and saw them in a whole new light. Pull into your spot and you’re good to go. Also, having this self-contained teeny shelter pushed us to try some spots we probably would have avoided if we were tent camping. In La Push, for instance, we were basically hanging out in a parking lot with a bunch of surfer dudes. But we were steps from the most incredible beach, where we ate dinner and witnessed one of the most glorious sunsets of our lives. No joke!


Will it Dump This Winter? We’re Off to a Good Start

And so it begins.

A fall storm has already dumped from the Cascades to the Northern Rockies, raising expectations for a great snow year.

Crystal Mountain‘s Campbell Basin has snow. Mt. Spokane, 49 Degrees North, Schweitzer and Whitefish Mountain all are reporting several inches on the tops of their resorts.

And Jackson Hole has already released this slick video after a dump on Oct. 4:

Of course it’s way too early to get too stoked. But it appears a long-range forecast that is calling for above-average snowfall in the Pacific Northwest and the Northern Rockies is on the mark.

Below, check out these webcam shots from Oct. 10:



La Niña Predicted and a Marketing Campaign is Born

It’s the end of a successful season, but Northwest ski areas are already revving up their marketing campaigns with a La Niña forecast for next year.

NOAA has issued a La Niña watch for next winter, saying the current El Niño pattern will be gone by this summer.

For skiers in the Pacific Northwest, La Niña is great news. The weather pattern, with colder than normal temperatures in the Pacific, can spark a steady flow of powerful storms from the gulf of Alaska. In the La Niña winter of 1998-99, a world-record 95 feet of snow fell at Mt. Baker Ski Area.

Crystal Mountain in Washington and Schweitzer Mountain in North Idaho are already touting the La Niña forecast on their home pages, hoping to entice skiers to buy season passes for next year. It won’t take long for other ski areas to jump aboard the La Niña marketing train.

Remember that almost nobody was right about last winter’s dire El Niño forecast, as the SkiZer detailed in this post. El Niño typically brings drier and warmer weather than normal to the Northwest, but that didn’t happen. Only the Farmer’s Almanac correctly called our wet winter — so stay tuned for that publication’s old-school forecast.





And the Rains Came: It’s Ugly Out There

No skiing for SkiZer this week.

It’s raining everywhere in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. I’m blaming Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog. Ever since Feb. 2, what had been a stellar ski season in the Cascades has been warm and mushy.

Like Bill Murray in the classic movie “Groundhog Day,” the SkiZer is hoping to take out Phil in a desperate attempt to break the cycle.

You’re out Phil. Let’s get some more snow!


Rider on the Storm at Mission Ridge

Skiers on the Chair 3 run Toketie at Mission Ridge.

Day 15: Jan. 29, 2016

There’s something I love about skiing in a major storm.

When the winds are howling and the snowflakes are flying sideways, you’ll find me with a huge grin on my face.

SkiZer’s Day 15 at Mission was like that. A wild Pacific storm dumped several inches onto the slopes of this gem in the eastern Cascades by the time I arrived. And it just kept dumping through the day.

Riders in the base area of Mission Ridge.

As luck would have it, I rode with a ski patrolman on the first chairlift. I asked him for a run recommendation and he pointed me to the Bomber Bowl area of Chair 2, the “Liberator Express” quad that takes skiers from mid-mountain to the top of Mission Ridge.

“Seems like it’s really blowing in over there,” he said.

With 30 mph winds pounding the top of the ridge, I headed to Bomber Bowl on one of the area’s primo cruisers, Katsuk. About four inches had fallen over a very hard base. The low-angle intermediate run was fast and fun as I floated on the new-fallen snow.

Bomber Bowl is named after a B-24 Liberator heavy bomber that crashed on Mission Ridge in 1944. A piece of the plane’s wing is displayed on the slope with a large sign that commemorates the crash.

Legend has it that if you touch the wing, you’ll bring more snow to the mountain. Consequently, riders are constantly swinging by to give it a lucky pat. The mojo seemed to be working on this day.

SkiZer gets ready for his first drop into Bomber Bowl.
Skiers pat the lucky wing in hopes of bringing more snow.

As I dropped in, swirling winds buffeted the impressive Bomber Cliffs, dumping more snow into the bowl below. It was mid-shin deep and I even got a few face shots.

Wow. This was still my first run.

I spent the morning doing laps on Chair 2, skiing various lines in the accumulating fluff. A sparse crowd — which is the norm at Mission — was there to share the wealth.

As the day wore on, I headed to Chair 3, the other lift that accesses the upper mountain. The raging storm had turned what had been a bullet-proof base into effortless powder skiing. The best runs tended to be the cruisers, which Mission has in abundance.

Midway Lodge offers riders a break from the storm.
Click on the map to expand.

After a quick stop at Midway Lodge to get warm, I found the storm had picked up. Winds were gusting to 5o mph on the ridge, so I headed back to Chair 2. It was a full-fledged blizzard now, and the chairlift swung precariously as we ascended.

“Yee-oww! That was fun!” I screamed in the gale to my chairlift mates as we got off the swinging lift. The wind was making a loud moaning noise and it was hard to stay upright.

It was now a race to get in as many runs as possible before winds closed the lifts. I did one on the Bomber Cliffs, a stunning out-of-bounds hike into a large side-country bowl that brings skiers back onto Chair 2. And then I made another run under the cliffs, hitting a line I had skied earlier in the day. Nobody else had touched it and I laid down a nice set of parallel tracks.

SkiZer sets down some tracks under the Bomber Cliffs.

Then it was over. Chair 2 closed in mid-afternoon, and I managed to get three more runs on Chair 3 before the storm took it down too. Snow was falling harder as I skied back to the base area.

Wow, that bomber wing really does have some magic.

Almanac Calls NW El Niño

Nobody really saw this coming. Well almost no one.

The Pacific Northwest was supposed to be in the grips of the dreaded El Niño this winter. Typically, that means warmer-than-average temperatures and below-average snowfall. Skiers hate El Niño because it can mean horrible conditions in the mountains.

Instead, regular storms have pounded the Cascades this winter, creating a well above-average snowpack. Crystal Mountain currently has 95 inches piled up at its top elevation. Mt. Baker Ski Area currently has 168 inches on top.

Snow piles up at Stevens Pass.

Earlier this season, most meteorologists were fretting that things would be horrible for then drought-plagued Washington state.

According to Newsweek magazine in October, “The force of El Niño will bring particularly bad news to the Pacific Northwest” in the form of continued drought conditions.

“The bottom line is that El Niño … heavily weights the atmospheric dice for a less stormy, warmer and a bit drier Pacific Northwest,” wrote Cliff Mass, the UW weather savant.