Emilia Wint is a former professional slopestyle skier (2012-2016 US Freesking Team) who retired last year after a series of knee injuries. As well as an avid outdoors woman and full-time van dweller, she’s also a full-time college student, studying Outdoor Education and Leadership.
Life ‘on the road’ for Emilia means a lot of life on campus, navigating the day-to-day challenges of school while balancing time spent in the outdoors, and mostly – building a life after skiing.
Learn more about Emilia. Interview below!
I had dinner with some old friends from skiing and they were making their lifestyle happen by unabashedly living in their cars. I was tired of paying rent and was nervous about being tied to one place. They totally inspired me.
That one dinner party changed my trajectory because I couldn’t get the idea of living in a vehicle out of my head. Nine months later I had a van of my own!
I convinced my parents that rather than paying for three years of rent while I was finishing school investing in a van made more sense. Somehow I got them on board and they helped me buy my Sprinter, Goose, a few weeks before classes started last year.
Yikes. It was brutal at first, to be completely honest. When I finally pulled the trigger and officially retired, I was in the midst of a 90-day Wilderness Medicine and Rescue course with NOLS. That experience really helped me to clear my head and to make the decision.
When I came back to “real life” after the course, facing the reality of not being a pro-skier any more was pretty harsh. Skiing was my entire identity, and to not have that anymore left me in a bit of a tailspin. I didn’t really know who I was as a person, I only knew who I was as a skier.
Diving straight into school and having a good friend who retired around the same time as me really helped. It took me a long time to realize that nothing I do will ever compare to what skiing was for me, but that it’s ok. I’ve since developed an obsession with climbing and riding my mountain bike, both of which I love and neither hurt my knees as much as skiing did!
I have a 2005 Dodge Sprinter named Goose. Being able to stand up inside and also be totally self-contained were the two major requirements for me.
My van is essentially a (very) small studio. I have a fridge, a two burner stove, a hand-pump sink, a (slightly short) twin bed and some storage space. The Sprinter was the only van that I was able to find in Denver, with the time I had, that fit my needs. I can fit my climbing gear, bike(s), ski gear, camping stuff and everyday school clothes and access everything from inside the van. It’s the perfect setup for incognito city living.
I’ve slowly been improving/renovating/remodeling the van as I live in it and figure out exactly what works for me and what doesn’t. I tape notes and postcards and letters to my fridge so I see them all the time. My mom gave me a beautiful Pendleton blanket for the bed which makes the van look really homey. I have little things people give me tucked in nooks and hanging around the van to remind me of them. My van isn’t quite as “lifestyle” as a lot of the vans you see on Instagram!
I’m so psyched with my degree program. I’ve most recently been drawn to climbing. I’ve acquired a usable trad rack and that has been quite the adventure. I can’t get enough. It’s nice to get into the alpine environment after sweltering in Moab all summer long!
I grew up a mountain girl, but because Salt Lake is so close to the desert, I’ve been drawn to red rock activities recently. Slot canyoneering and mountain biking top that list. In a few days, I will embark on a 50-mile, 6-day solo backpacking trip on the Highline Trail in the Uintas. Honestly, I just love being outside and sharing those experiences with others. I’ve taken a number of friends climbing for the first time and that’s something I’ve had a lot of fun with.
I’ve grown accustomed to knowing where my stability is and where I need to get creative. Being a student makes van life super easy. Campus provides all the amenities one would need: showers, study space, a gym, late hours, food, wifi. My climbing gym membership gives me an awesome place to escape school, hang with friends, shower, and they’re open late which is perfect.
There are other things like laundry and consistent parking where I have to get creative. If my van is in the shop, my transportation and my house are out of commision, so life gets really unstable and I need to figure it out on the fly. I’m very grateful to have friends who let me wash clothes and sleep over when I need to!
My advice would be to figure out what you need and to plan where you can get it. If you need internet, figure out where the coffee shops are and make sure they’re open. When campus is closed (like over the summer) I plan in advance where I’ll shower and leave my van all day. A little bit of forethought goes a long way in reducing the day-to-day instabilities of van-life.
Mhhhh I’m reluctant to give up my spots! They’re a bit covert and dear to my heart. I will say that there is a parking lot that has my gym, a bakery, high-speed wifi in the parking lot (hello internet in the van!), an outdoor gear store and a grocery store across the street. I’m sure some people can figure out where this is, but if anyone knows of a better van-life parking spot I’d like to hear it!
What surprised me is how much of a junkshow life on the road is and that it’s ok. Maybe it’s just me, but something is always going wrong or needs to be fixed. It took me a while, but I finally realized that I don’t need to know what I’m doing, my van doesn’t need to be perfect or look like the other vans on Instagram. I’ve learned to go with the flow and have developed a lot of flexibility and acceptance for uncertainty. I’ve also learned that two or three showers a week is totally adequate.
Right now, I’ve escaped the Moab heat and I’m in Salt Lake City for the Outdoor Retailer show. I’m wrapping up my summer internship with Public Land Solutions (a public land advocacy nonprofit) and Western Spirit Cycling.
In a month I will have just started my senior year of school and will be diving into some projects I have planned for the fall semester!