Van Life Adventures: A Mountain Playground

Nicholas Jones | March 15, 2019

After chasing the endless winter for almost a decade, Derek Lennon set up shop in Big Sky, Montana where he lives with his wife, son, and dogs. Derek works as a ski guide and writer. When he gets time off, he enjoys hitting the road to go on extended van adventures to ski, hike, and climb in the mountains of North America. You can follow Derek’s adventures on his website, MountainJourney.com. This is his story…

A Mountain Playground

I live in one of the most amazing mountain playgrounds in the Lower 48. As part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, Big Sky delivers a lifetime of adventure. Nestled into the Madison Range of SW Montana, there’s hiking, climbing, mountaineering, and skiing right out my backdoor. I love it here, but I also love exploring new places.

To fuel my wanderlust, I hop in my Mercedes Sprinter Van and hit the road to explore the mountains of the North America. The Cascades, Tetons, Elks, Sierras, Selkirks, Gore, Sawtooths, and so many other amazing mountain ranges are all just a drive away. All I have to do is pack up my gear and start driving.

Van Life Adventures

Living in a van is an adventure in itself. For me the van is the best option for life on the road, plus the 4×4 helps me get to the places that I want to explore. Whether I’m crashing at a trailhead in the Beartooths or catching some Z’s in the free parking lot at my favorite Utah ski resort, my van is always my home away from home.

My daily routine differs depending on the adventure, but as long as I plan accordingly I’m always happy and content. There’s not a ton of space so I have to stay organized and clean at times, which can get a bit tricky when you’re covered in mud after a hike to a 14er or frozen solid after a ski mountaineering mission in the Wasatch.

I kept my van design very basic to keep life simple. A small kitchenette with a fridge and sink serves as my dining area. A bench seat acts as a futon for guests, a sofa for relaxing, and an office chair for working. A three-panel bed in the back is my bedroom and closet. A diesel heater keeps everything nice and warm (and helps to dry my ski boots). And my trusty Yeti cooler works well as a card table and desk. Of course, if the weather’s nice I always opt to be outside. The van life is minimalist and beautifully simple.

Now I wish I could commit to the full-on #vanlife that we are all jealous of on Instagram, but that’s not very realistic for me. My amazing wife, little boy, loving dogs, and guiding career won’t allow it. Instead I’ve found a nice balance that allows for a healthy home life combined with a handful of well-planned van adventures each year. It’s the perfect situation – and I highly recommend it.

Working From the Mountains

I live by the motto: Work hard. Play Hard. During the winter season, I work as a ski instructor at Big Sky Resort and a ski guide at Big Sky Backcountry Guides. I also run a website for mountain enthusiasts called MountainJourney.com. While it’s easy to plan van trips around the busy times in the ski industry, the website demands constant attention. Luckily it’s something I can take on the road and work on remotely.

Often after a big day in the mountains, I come back to the van and need to crank out some work. Whether that means posting a trip report, sharing the latest news, tagging friends in outdoor action shots on Instagram, or responding to urgent emails, my WeBoost 4GX OTR allows me to stay connected.

Most of my journeys take me to the fringes of cell phone service and beyond. As long as I have a cell phone signal, I can call home or get online. Before I had the signal booster, I was often out of luck on doing either of these things and that’s no good. WeBoost makes my van adventures a realistic option for work, life, and play. There’s something to be said for convenience and peace of mind.

I know that mountains make me happy. Setting a skin track through pristine forests, skiing steep couloirs, summiting remote peaks. or hiking to crystal clear alpine lakes is an experience like nothing else in this world. I love my van-fueled adventures, but I also love coming home. Life is good.

As Bob Marley once said, “Love the life you live. Live the life you love.” That’s exactly what I’m doing and I recommend you do it too.