Snowed in: winter camping in the van with freerider Markus Ascher
Markus Ascher has converted his old Mercedes-Benz fire truck into a winter camper van. The Austrian freerider roams about in it in the Alps. His route: wherever he can find new snow.
For comfort: sheep’s wool in the winter van
Luckily Markus Ascher doesn’t need much: the white mountains, his skis and the former Mercedes-Benz fire truck – his transporter. The man from Tyrol converted the vehicle into a matt-black winter camper van, handcrafted in months of careful work. And the passionate freerider lovingly refers to it as: “my mobile mountain hut”. The description fits just like the new snow on the Alpine peaks. Especially inside the old MB 310 you feel like you are inside a cosy cabin in the mountains: the interior of the cabin is made almost entirely of solid wood, untreated and unpainted, of course. “So that the wood can breath”, explains Markus. Sheep’s wool clads the walls to ensure that the winter van doesn’t turn into an igloo in freezing temperatures.
The route? Keep following the new snow!
That means that sheep’s wool isn’t enough against the temperature around zero, emphasizes the 31-year-old adventurer. That is why the camper van doesn’t just have auxiliary heating and specially insulated glass in the windows, but another treat that is also taken from the Alpine cabin tradition: a black wood burner – including integrated chimney. What? A real wood-fired oven in a Mercedes-Benz transporter? “Yes”, replies the bearded freerider. “Cosy and warm – just like a cabin up in the Alps.” With his “four-wheel hut”, Markus tours Europe’s mountains in the winter, always looking for fresh snow. “The winter camper van is ideal”, says the globetrotter from Austria. “I can choose my route as I like. I save on accommodation and I’m always in the outdoors.”
We’re losing our contact with nature and with it, our closeness and respect for mother earth.
Markus Ascher heeds the call of the mountains
Because this is where he feels most at home. “I enjoy the solitude and the peace of the mountains. I’m much rather in the mountains than in the valley.” And he much prefers sleeping out in the open. “That’s more difficult in the winter”, admits the Austrian. “So the van is a good solution. It’s almost as good as sleeping out in the open.” Markus believes he was born with this proximity to nature. “You can only develop a sensitivity for nature and your own actions in the outdoors if you spend a lot of time out in it.” That is what Markus Ascher believes is missing in modern society today. “We’re losing our contact with nature and with it, our closeness and respect for mother earth.”
Austrian established as freerider
This man from Tyrol grew up in the mountains and soon developed a passion for winter sport. He stood on skis for the first time as a two year old, could almost ski before he could walk. Markus Ascher took part in competitions, established himself in the scene and made a name for himself as an amazing free skier and “mad Austrian”. “I think that as a freerider you have a special closeness to nature”, says the 31-year-old freeskiing nomad. The sport reflects everything for which nature stands in the mountains: freedom, no limits, you define where you want to go, which route you want to take: in the mountains – driving in his Mercedes-Benz camper van. Skiing to Markus Ascher is synonymous with being out and about. “Discovering new places – that’s what drives me”, he says. This yearning took him most recently to Iran and Turkey – to ski.
It’s the details you mustn’t forget when you’re camping in the winter
“For the time you spend in the van I recommend very boring things, but they are things I always miss if I forget them”, says winter-camping expert, Markus Ascher: “Comfy, warm slippers, tea and a thermos flask. For outside and especially in case you get snowed in – which is something I always hope for, as a freerider – you need good winter boots, a small shovel, a good ice scraper and a broom.” Or a good heating system, then you don’t have to bother with scraping away the ice.
A typical day: skiing, chestnuts and tea
What is a typical day like in Markus nomadic life? Simple: after skiing extensively on and off piste, the skier comes home to his matt-black van in the evenings. Sometimes alone, sometimes with other freerider friends. Taking off wet clothes, he slips into slippers, switches on the heating and stokes the fire. Gets the tea on and then it is time for pasta or chestnuts – which he prepares or roasts on his idyllic wooden kitchen counter and wood burner. At least that’s a typical winter day. In the summer, Markus lives in a house in the woods, in Kramsach in Tyrol, which he also renovated for the most part by himself. In the garden he grows herbs, vegetables and fruit – the goal: to be self-sufficient. He takes part-time jobs or goes on long road trips: to Italy, France – or as in just recently: to Kyrgyzstan.
First a fire truck, now a winter camper van
But Markus Ascher spent the last summers converting the fire-red engine into a matt black winter camper van. He got the idea on a road trip through Portugal. He noticed that a lot of “road trippers” used the old Mercedes-Benz 310. So he got one – on the internet. The four-wheel transporter, year of construction 1991, had a mileage of only 18,000 kilometers because it had originally been a fire truck in Styria and wasn’t used every day. “These vehicles not only have a lot of space, but they’re reliable, robust and economical to use.” Two more advantages that spoke for the MB 310: uncomplicated technology. “I can repair or convert most things myself.” And: the four-wheel drive – which, in addition to snow chains and special Scandinavian soft tires, are essential especially on snowy mountain roads, for the camper van’s winter performance.
Conversion – learning by doing
He didn’t plan much when he initially started converting his van. “We just tried things out”, says Markus. For a while he worked away at the vehicle in the garage, every day for weeks, together with other freerider friends. “It was worth every second. The van really is an important part of my life.” Markus also wanted to make sure that parts removed from one part of the van were used elsewhere. “At the beginning, the transporter was a prototype. We refined things gradually. I still work a lot on my van”, says the Austrian. “I immediately felt at home in my van. And that’s not changed.”