108 | Winter Camping and Skiing {Gap Year Diaries}

winter camping and skiing
Camping and skiing are two adventures that shape our first week of our family gap year. In this episode we walk you through our first week and share insights of camping and skiing as a family of 5 in an RV kicking off our family gap year in January from Wisconsin.


The first week of our family gap year is complete.  I will give you a glimpse behind the scenes on week 1 which include several everyday adventures such as winter camping frozen waterfalls, and skiing on Tuesday. This information will not be public going forward.  You can subscribe to my email list to receive the weekly updates of our Family Gap Year as we make our way across the country as a family of 5 (and a dog) in an RV.  

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*To follow our family gap year choose __ Family Gap Year Adventure to get insider stories from our gap year experiences.  

Winter rv camping week 1 with a family of five

“There is something oddly satisfying and peaceful about bringing a family of 5 to a laundromat.” Words I never imagined coming out of my mouth. It’s day 5 of the gap year and thus far life on the road is as expected.

We began the adventure in perfect form – parked in a friend’s driveway with kids and family close by. We had sleepovers, gma spoiled the kidswith treats and we took several adventures outside enjoying the abundance of snow. In many ways it felt like a typical weekend visit on the other side of the state. As my great aunt once taught me, “after 2 nights fish and company smell the same.” By Saturday afternoon it was time to move on and officially leave our home state of Wisconsin.

Duluth, Minnesota we had visited on occasion in the summer, but never in the winter. Winter camping was a new experience and aligned well with the intention of adventure we embarked on. We sought campsites with electricity hook-ups making life a little easier. Jay Cooke State Park was the perfect home. Again the mounds of snow had our hearts fluttering. It was like REAL winter here, not just overcast cold had been experiencing at home. We parked, grabbed supper and asked the kids if they wanted to chill or get a few ski runs in at a local Indy Pass resort. “Skiing” they exclaimed. A 20 minute drive to Spirit Mountain and only 90 minutes of night skiing was the perfect dose for getting our ski legs on and a first run at drying ski clothing in 240 sq. ft.

Sunday morning I asked the husband if he wanted to take a walk with me. He obliged and we took the dog, the kids were more interested in staying back at the campsite and playing in the snow. We wanted to check out the swinging bridge sign we saw when we were checking in. It’s hard to describe the serenity and pristine snow along the crisp river adorned with an old stone tower bridge. After a short hike we made our way back to the campsite not sure we wanted to leave the kids alone for too long. Good thing we threw the two saucer sleds in the RV undercarriage storage as we had the place to ourselves. As we approached the campsite, the kids were sledding down an excellent sled hill, which doubled as the driveway, but with no one around we could enjoy all the features. The smiles and laughter were genuine!

We were excited to move north with our sights on skiing Lutsen, another Indy Pass resort and the only Gondola in the midwest. The boys had been on the northern shores of Minnesota along Lake Superior on their way to the boundary waters to fish each summer. This was a bit more plush camping in the RV and with the entire family in tow. Along our route we experienced another adventure that has been unchecked on the winter adventure list the past few years – to see and experience frozen waterfalls. Thanks to Gooseberry Falls State Park we now had one more adventure to cross of the list.

Gooseberry Falls State Park had several viewpoints and trails to explore with the added benefit of a nature center, flush toilets and running water – new found luxuries. While the sights were exquisite, if you ask my kids what they remember of Gooseberry Falls I doubt it will have anything to do with the majestic frozen waterfalls, the mastercraft of the Civilian Conservation Corp bridge, or simple pleasures of running water. No they will likely share how all the trail steps were frozen over and they would grab the railing and slide down on their feet. A new adventure discovered by accident by a 12 YO boy. Risky and dangerous just adds to the adventure you know!

We arrived on the shores of Lake Superior in Grand Marais nestled between lighthouses and frozen water coating the shoreline. The city marina and campground would be home for the next 3 nights. With the chill of Superior engulfing the air, I was ready for a delicious but healthy splurge. Angry Trout Cafe met the calling. (Wild Rice in Minnesota is a local flavor worth experiencing).

Monday and Tuesday were spent skiing Lutsen. Another intention of this gap year was to experience skiing on Tuesdays. Among the retirees and rare families we enjoyed all four mountains of Lutsen. Finally a midwest ski resort that gave my 12 yo alpine skier a challenge. Taking the Gondola over to Moose Mountain kept us busy with plentiful blue runs – the kind with enough of a face to make your legs burn and pause at the top. However nothing beats the smell of tailgating in the parking lot – the perfect Apres Ski to my favorite midwest experience. Lutsen would be the 7th ski hill on our Indy Pass tour that is defining the first 30 days of this gap year and likely the last of the midwest as we cross over to the Rockies region.

After 2 days of skiing the sight and chuckle might come from figuring out how to dry out 5 peoples ski gear – jackets, snow pants, helmets, socks, mittens and boots. In 240 sq. foot space we had 3 boot dryers, a drying rack nestled between the driver and passenger seat, a DIY Glove dryer over the bathroom furnace vent and a plethora of jackets, neck gaiters, and snow pants sprawled out or hanging from any available cupboard nob or hook. On night 2 there was reports of 5″ of new snow which meant we should pull in the bump out making our living space even smaller. Triggering the first sense of claustrophobia. We dired out the skis in the shower so they don’t rust before packing back in the ski rack on top of the van we are towing with a tow dolly. The dehumidifier worked nonstop to keep the potential of mold at bay. Our first dash of winter camping and chasing snow and we were just adding to the experience.

Which brings me to today. The glamorous life of RV travel with new snow still falling we figured some time out of the RV would be helpful. The pressing need is to find fill and dump station for fresh water and refill our LP tanks to assure we have a furnace and hot water heater. For now showers are limited to wipes and dry shampoo as a temporary solution – rustic camping lessons at their best. The laundromat has become our makeshift gym. Actually today I was impressed the kids pulled out all their homeschool work sat down and began working. The kids have brought an entire bin of activities – but it’s the space to run around and throw the hacky sack that resets us all. This hour will not only clean our clothes, but give us a change of scenery.

You can learn so much about the soul of a city in the standard places like laundromats. Listening to the water spray, the tumble of the drier, and chatter of two older gentlemen who recently entered. The bulletin board of local offers it’s fascinating. OUtside the snow continues to fall. Seeing my kids have their stuff sprawled out on the big table for folding clothes on this random Wednesday in Grand Marais is enough to make me smile. Gap Year intention was to slow down and embrace the ordinary. Today that was a success!

Key takeaways

  1. In five days we have spent over 20 hours outside, and the month of January we had a total of 60 hours outside.

  2. The cost of eating out could be the equivalent to three days of travel. Teaching us to balance sanity with pleasure will be a continuous life lesson.

  3. Everyday Adventure Experiences thus far have included winter camping, frozen waterfalls, and skiing on Tuesdays. There is nothing about these experiences that require a family gap year to experience.

  4. Ordinary places like laundromats can tell a lot about a location’s soul. Changes in space and observing what is unique continues to be part of the untourist adventure we crave.

  5. The things my kids remember have little to do with where we are or what we are doing. They remember the random things they usually can’t do like slide down the ice covered stairs at Gooseberry Falls State Park (Minnesota).

  6. Proximity to each other has been a good thing with spontaneous reading times, games or just seeing how each person processes information.

As I previously stated, these will not be publicly available going forward. If you like reading the detailed behind the scenes of our Family Gap Year adventures make sure to subscribe to the email list: Ordinarysherpa.com/subscribe. Make sure to check the topic “Family Gap Year Adventures.”

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