The Roots of Snowmads – Interview with Markus Ascher
Ever wondered how the whole Snowmads idea started?
Markus Ascher is talking about the first steps, how things developed and about the process of refurbishing the old fire truck. Read the full story now!
Markus „Moggä“ Ascher, skier, life artist and Snowmad from the very beginning! Moggä introduced the idea of combining skiing and vanlife with „Blacky“ , his 4wd Mercedes van. When Fabi came up with the idea of refurbishing an old fire truck, he didn’t hesitate to join the project and play an important role in the whole process of turning an old fire truck into an outstanding and unique vehicle to travel the world with.
From your perspective: when and where would you say Snowmads was born?
I guess I can’t name this one specific birth date or place, it was more like a years long process leading up to what Snowmads is today.
If you go all the way back the idea of chasing the snow and exploring mountains in a camper van started with a trip to Switzerland where Fabi, Matthias Egger and Jonas Blum, a swiss photographer borrowed the Volkswagen van of Fabis parents, in lack of money for hotels. We were freezing our asses off in the van because we neither had a heating system nor did we have good sleeping bags with minus 10 degrees outside. I remember Matthi saying „Moggä, i think my nose is frozen“ while shivering next to me in the middle of the night. Nevertheless we had some of the most amazing days of tree runs in that Swiss valley – thanks to a nice lady called „Chrige“ who we met in the gondola. She let us sleep on the floor in her living room, I don’t know if we could have made the whole week in the camper… That was in 2011 and we definitely learned that for winter camping you need a proper vehicle. We didn’t have that, neither did we have the money to buy it or the knowledge to build one. But the plant was seeded so to say and after some more years it started flowering.
„Moggä, we need to build another van like yours, but bigger and for more people“.
How did the whole idea of building the Snowmads-Truck develop?
It probably started with a phone call from Fabi some weeks after he, unexpected for almost everyone, quit the Freeride World Tour in 2015. He called and said „Moggä, we need to build another van like yours, but bigger and for more people“.
Two or three years before that Fabi went on a six months road trip to climb, fly and ski with an almost falling apart standard camper van you can find in every camp ground, which him and two friends Leo and Domi bought for around 5000 Euros. They drove from Austria all the way to Kirgistan, learned how to travel big distances and to live on the road – even with a far from perfect vehicle for those dusty dirtroads. I remember when Fabi told me that one time their engine dropped down onto the road in the Kirgistan no mans land. When they came back the car was a total wreck for european standards. But Fabi still says it was one of his best trips.
Meanwhile I had rebuilt myself an old fire fighter truck with the goal to build a winter camping van which turned out really nice. The inspiration came from a 3 months surf trip to Portugal with my girlfriend in a super small and really basic van, just big enough for the two of us and no luxury whatsoever. We saw a lot of surf bums living at the beaches in their big, old Mercedes Trucks. Rusty, but luxury villas compared to our Renault Espace, some of them even had wood stoves inside.
„ The idea to bring that surfing lifestyle to the mountains fascinated me. So the idea for my second, now bigger van was born.„
The idea to bring that surfing lifestyle to the mountains fascinated me. So the idea for my second, now bigger van was born. I finished it just the same season as Fabi had his short stint on the Freeride Worldtour and it was his second FWT stop in Andorra coming up. We decided to drive to the Pyrenees one week before the contest to visit Aymar Navarro and we had an amazing time! Camping in the parking lot and skiing really nice lines in front of our door. When Fabi and Aymar left for Andorra and the competition Fabi already was like „Man, I really don’t feel like competition, I would much rather stay here“ But yeah, usually when you’ve qualified for the tour, you just go there because as a freerider its one of the best opportunities to make it as a professional. Not so Fabi and when we had a chat on the phone the next day he was really considering quitting the tour – one day later he was already sitting in the bus on his way home. Of course we were far from being the only ones quite stunned by Fabis move to quit the world tour at the second stop in his first year. His explanation blog post reached a lot of people and gave everyone to understand that he wants to explore the world outside the contest scene. That was also the time when that „Moggä, we need to build a bigger van“ phone call happened… We were still talking about a „van“ back then.
From a crazy idea to suddenly having bought an old fire truck – what happened in-between?
From the idea to buying the truck it was just one and a half months actually. We quickly saw that with buying and rebuilding a simple van we ́ll never be able to fit eight people plus equipment and necessities like water and food and make that vehicle drive well in the offroads. So we came to a Mercedes Truck from 1985 that was actually used as a lorry in gravel pits and construction yards to carry heavy loads on heavy roads. You don’t see them a lot here in Europe anymore, in the east, specially Iran, you do a lot. If you see them here they’re mainly rebuilt into expedition trucks, cause they’re one of the most reliable vehicles you can think of. Really basic, but really well built. Fabi was just on a filming trip in Alaska with Legs of Steel and we were talking a lot on Skype, when I found the right model of the truck for sale on a scrapyard in Hamburg. Ready to be shipped to Africa, thats what usually happens to them when they get discharged from European Fire Departments with usually really little kilometers on them.
The Snowmads Truck had 33.000km on it. The Price and condition of the Truck was too good to let it go, even though we had no fixed plan for the further rebuilding. So I took the train there and bought it for Fabi. It took one more month that he actually saw what he had just bought. Fun fact: None of us was even allowed to drive it, cause it is a Truck with more than 7,5 Tons and neither Fabi or me had the license for that.
„We talked to many people and companies if they would help us build the truck and quite a few of them told us, especially when we told them details, that we are crazy and would have no chance to do that with our amount of money.„
The long process of refurbishing the old fire truck and finally hitting the road for the first time with the Snowmads-Truck. How would you describe that time?
Woah that was crazy! Fabi once said that was probably the most exhausting time in his life. As I said, when we bought the truck we didn’t have a fixed plan and none of us had ever build something like that. We just had the experience and blueprint of my van, but the truck was an incomparably bigger project. The idea to buy the truck, put it in front of my house and rebuild it like I basically did with my van was not possible with that one, for once just because of its sheer size. We talked to many people and companies if they would help us build the truck and quite a few of them told us, especially when we told them details, that we are crazy and would have no chance to do that with our amount of money. Luckily Fabis‘ manager Karin of NINE&ONE had a lot of trust in our crazy idea and also Fabis‘ long time sponsors Red Bull and Scott where willing to join the adventure. But still we were far from being on a paved road and the rebuilding turned out to be 6 months of craziness that would actually fill another blog post. But in the end the truck turned out to be amazing!
„With passion you can achieve a lot that is thought to be impossible – and we definitely have a lot of passion! „
What do you connect with Snowmads? Which values? What kind of lifestyle?
I guess the story of how it was born shows quite a lot of what Snowmads is. It’s about realizing things you dream of, even when it seems unreachable or even impossible. I guess we learned that from skiing, just because no one has done a line you feel absolutely good with doesn’t mean it’s not possible – even if there will be people telling you that it is. When we came up with the idea of the truck and especially details about it, for example the fact that we wanted to insulate it with sheep wool cause we like natural materials, many people and even offroad camper building experts told us we were idiots. Most of them didn’t even believe we would be able to build something like a functioning truck in the first place, cause of too little money, not enough time and too little knowledge.
„One of the essences of Snowmads: going on adventures that are deemed impossible for whatever reasons„
Probably you’ll always have those reactions… But yeah, with passion you can achieve a lot that is thought to impossible – and we definitely have a lot of passion! Thats probably one of the essences of Snowmads, going on adventures that are deemed impossible for whatever reasons. I can tell you, buidling the truck was not the last time we got a lot of questionmarks on faces for our ideas… Generally we all love to be outside in the nature, the mountains, we love to ski, love to explore remote places and cultures and make deep connections with the people and places we meet. And we try to do all of that with open hearts and minds. I can tell you it was a crazy but beautiful ride till now and I’m looking forward to what’s still to come!
Want to know more about Markus „Moggä“ Ascher? Check out his episode from our webisode Snowmads Home Stories!