Van life is wildly popular these days, urging outdoorsy types—especially skiers—to hit the road and not look back. And, among the many folks partaking, Chris Benchetler is setting a top-notch example. The California-based skier put a wild amount of effort into his van, “The Stealthy Marmot,” last summer and now he’s reaping the benefits—zoomin’ all over North America in search of powder and good times. Below, we catch up with Benchetler about what it was like building out the van, what it’s like living in it and what’s on the road ahead.
(Photos by Chris Benchetler unless otherwise noted)
What’s going on? How’s your season been?
The season has been unreal. Seems like the entire West Coast is getting hammered with snow, and fortunately the timing was in line with my plan to buy a van and drive it up the coast—skiing, surfing and climbing. The plan is, eventually, to drive to Alaska and meet up with individuals that have mastered each of those aforementioned sports to draw the parallels between each sport all while trying to live simply in a van.
Why did you decide to live in a van this winter?
I’ve always been very inspired by nature, as well as the idea of consuming and having less. I thought by living in a van I would have a better idea of my impact, and be able to slow my pace down of chasing weather on a global scale to really enjoy all the elements of wherever we’re at.
What was it like building out the van?
Insane! I learned so much. It was physically and mentally exhausting, but it was a true labor of love. My friend Scott Smith helped with the entire process and gave me a full crash course in carpentry.
Where did the inspiration come from for the art? Did you do all of it yourself?
The exterior art was inspired by my travel plans for the trip, and was done by my friend Skye Walker and I. He’s a muralist, and this was my first larger-scale mural using spray paint, so he was a massive help in teaching me some technique and tricks. He painted the lower half, and I painted the upper.
What’s your favorite part of the van and why?
Ooh. Tough question. As I said, this van was a labor of love, meaning I really love a lot of it. Maybe the table wins, though. Scott recreated one of my art pieces—Old Man Winter—out of reclaimed fence posts he found in Tahoe. To watch my art come to life and stare at it every time I eat is pretty cool.
Where does the name “The Stealthy Marmot” come from?
When researching ideas we saw a lot of van builds out there that have names of more vicious predators, so we tried to choose a more insignificant animal and, naturally, “The Stealthy Marmot” stuck.
What’s been the best thing about van life?
Simplifying. I’ve really enjoyed having less, even though we still have a lot of crap with us… Even just being aware of how much electricity and water I consume has been an eye-opener.
What’s been the worst thing about van life?
Being on the move a lot. Since it’s a vehicle, too, I’m not just setting up camp and leaving everything set out. Got to keep it organized.
Are you ultimately saving a lot of money by living in the van? Is that even the point?
I’m not necessary saving a lot of money, but I’m learning a lot about living more simply, which will save a lot in the future.
Are you going to live out of the van full-time when ski season is over?
My wife and I are talking about it… Haven’t fully decided yet, but we definitely want to try a full year at some point in the future.
What do those aspiring towards van life absolutely need to know?
There’s a lot I’m learning, but I’d say my biggest lesson has been to consider ventilation. We prepared for it in the build, but cooking, breathing and drying soggy outerwear needs more fan time than I was giving it, so we had a bit too much condensation when we first got to the Pacific North West.
What’s the craziest story you have with the van from this season?
Thankfully nothing too crazy. Though, I had something inside my storage bench hit the fuse box to the diesel heater and pull the wire out. Until I diagnosed it, that would win for most stressful as it was freezing and snowing in Oregon when that happened. But, honestly, the van is built pretty bomber (famous last words).
OK, now back to skiing. It seems like you’re doing a ton of filming with Mr. Ski Chef and some rad athletes. What’s the plan with all of that footage?
Yep, the Chef and I are in the van full-time, traveling North to Alaska and meeting up with all my friends and inspirations along the way. We are keeping the ‘Gram up to date so people can follow along, but the episodes won’t release until the fall.
You’ve seen the greatness that is The Stealthy Marmot. You’ve heard about the hard work Benchetler put in to make it happen. Now, get psyched for the footage that’ll come out in the fall and get a sneak preview via the Instagram clips, below.
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