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Camping Out for the First Chairlift of the Season

12 Oct 2017, 4:25 pm

As we rapidly approach the start of ski season, it’s time to discuss one of the many topics that I have been scolded for bringing up on air.
I’m talking about camping in a parking lot to ensure fresh powder in the morning.

As I stumble through writing this article, Meteorologist Mike Morrison is somewhere in the Rocky Mountains camping out the days until the Arapahoe Basin opens for the season.

The Basin opens this Friday, but it isn’t one of the resorts which allow parking lot camping. So eager skiers and riders like Mike will have to find other accommodations to save their spot in line for that coveted first chair.

One Colorado Ski Resort Opens Friday

Parking Lot Camping

It’s a pretty unique set of circumstances that allows for parking lot camping. In fact, the first time the concept was explained to me I thought Portland’s weirdness had gone too far.

First of all, it is NOT legal everywhere!

Here are the western U.S. resorts that don’t mind you camping for that first chair:

  • Crystal Mountain, WA
  • Mount Baker, WA
  • Summit at Snoqualmie, WA
  • Stevens Pass, WA
  • Mount Hood Meadows, OR
  • Hoodoo, OR
  • Mount Bachelor, OR
  • Willamette Pass, OR
  • Squaw Alpine, CA
  • Bear Valley, CA
  • Schweitzer Mountain, ID
  • Whitefish Mountain, MT
  • Bridger Bowl, MT
  • Grand Targhee, WY
  • Wolf Creek, CO

Now, just because one of these resorts allows camping doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all. Quite a few have limited spots and rules governing snow and vehicle types.

It’s best to check with your favorite resort before packing the sleeping bag in the back of your wagon for that icy sleepover.

Heavy Snow for the Northern Rockies Thursday and Friday


I wish it went without saying that you will be camping in winter conditions if you choose this tried-and-true method of snatching that first chair.

It’ll be cold. Sub-freezing to be exact. And you should plan accordingly.

Many resorts only allow RVs to camp because of the liability that comes with cold nights in a small car. But for the ones that allow us wagoneers, there is no shame in wearing all of the ski gear inside your cold-weather sleeping bag in order to stay warm. Especially when it comes to those late-night bathroom breaks.

Safety meeting

A post shared by Jeremy LaGoo (@flashlagoo) on

Pro Tips

Another thing to keep in mind is that skiing and snowboarding as sports are filled with a wide variety of people, and so are those nights of camping in the parking lot.

A good way to think of this is like a city with different neighborhoods. There are areas where the kids stay up late and blast loud music, and others where a full night of sleep and an early morning take priority in the face of impending snow.

Your best bet is to start asking around when you get to the parking lot. Veterans of the lot-camp are always up for sharing some tricks of the trade. And if you listen close enough they might even share a couple favorite early-morning runs!

The purpose of life is to enjoy every moment

A post shared by Jeremy LaGoo (@flashlagoo) on

I cannot emphasize this enough. As you plan your winter getaway, be sure to call the resort in advance to make sure you know their individual policy.

Some lots are first come first serve, while others require a reservation– and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

For WeatherNation — Meteorologist Jeremy LaGoo

P.S. Always pack out what you pack in!


One response to “Camping Out for the First Chairlift of the Season

  1. Just a few of us camped out in the Arapahoe Basin parking lot for opening day! Talked with an Arapahoe Basin representative who explained that even though it was ok to camp out in the lot for opening day, that practice won’t be allowed generally throughout the season.

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