Frozen on the Inside

24/02/18 – 01/02/18

We enjoyed our time in Livigno skiing, it’s a resort that is mostly wide red runs which suits us down to the ground as we don’t like anything too challenging, age has instilled caution where previously I would have aimed to descend the steepest bumpiest slopes. The resort has had some money pumped into it and the lifts, facilities and ski-bus service are all excellent. I wont give you a blow by blow account of each day as each day was very similar. Get up, have a leisurely breakfast in Bertie, head off to the slopes (either on foot, or using the very efficient bus service), ski, lunch at a restaurant on the slopes, ski some more, aperitivo, dinner in Bertie, sleep, start again. It was odd but comforting to be in a routine.

We stayed at Camping Pemont, probably the closest campsite to the slopes. It was good value if, like us, you went for the pitches with 3amp electricity (you could pay more for 10 amps but we don’t have enough electric gadgets to need it), €21 a night, plus €1 for 4 minutes of warm shower. The bathroom was underground and well heated although it did sometimes have that musty smell that happens when a moist environment is not aired enough.

It was no surprise that the bathrooms weren’t well aired though, because for three nights on the trot we had temperatures down below minus 20 centigrade. We barely opened Bertie’s windows in this time and I don’t blame the campsite owners for letting as little cold air into the bathroom as possible.

Being in such cold temperatures was an experience. The first night was quite mild so we stuck to our usual cold weather routine of turning the van heating on in the evening and then leaving our little electric oil filled radiator on overnight. Whoever gets up first in the morning is tasked with switching the heating on again and then jumping back into bed until Bertie is up to a reasonable temperature (about 10 degrees is enough to venture out and get dressed).

The second night we could feel the warmth being leeched out of the air as the temperature plummeted. So we had to leave the heating on all night. Now our heating is powered by gas (some people are lucky enough to have heating that can be switched between electricity and gas) and the warm air is distributed by a fan. When the thermostat detects that the temperature has dropped the fan will kick in to push warm air around the van, when it’s hit the desired temperature the fan speed will drop. The following morning Paul had bags under the bags under his eyes. He described a night of heating paranoia where he had initially listened to ensure that the fan turned off, then had laid awake waiting to ensure that the fan turned back on again, then worried in case the fan didn’t turn off, and so on. The positive was that the van was toasty, the negative was that Paul was as likely to become a nervous wreck if we had another night like it. On top of that the van was too warm overnight for both of us – it’s about 16 degrees at it’s minimum setting – and we got through half a bottle of gas in one night.

The other thing about heating in winter is that we need to ensure that the water, which is held in a fresh water tank, a boiler and a waste water tank, plus all the pipes in between, doesn’t freeze. Freezing would be bad news with the possibility of pipework and boiler being buggered (technical term) by the expansion of freezing water. Keeping the water liquid is accomplished through a combination of having the boiler on at all times, plus using the blown air heating in the underfloor area where the pipes run and the water tanks live.

So we had a problem, which would take precedence? Paul’s mental health (and my ensuing happiness) or Bertie’s pipes? The answer was obvious, we had to have a solution that resolved both. One option was to leave, but we weren’t keen to schlep all the way back over the mountain with so little skiing done.

In the end we decided to drain down Bertie so that we didn’t need to keep the heating on all night. We were nearly empty anyway, so draining down the fresh water, grey water and boiler didn’t produce too much liquid (each bucketfull needed to be walked to the service area to be disposed of). That night we followed our ‘normal’ routine. Gas heating on all evening until bed time, oil fired radiator on overnight. We got into bed and waited to see whether we would freeze overnight.

As we are still here with no blackened extremities the frostbite can’t have been serious. As we lay in bed the first night we could hear Bertie creaking and groaning as the cold took hold, shrinking some materials faster than others and creating ghostly noises in the process. We had started the evening at 16 degrees and were interested to see how cold we got overnight.

In our bedroom we were toasty, once we drew the curtain our little space acted like a four-poster or box-bed. We were warm in the fug of our own body heat, under two duvets and wearing pyjamas. In fact we needed to crack open the roof vent to let the moisture laden air escape and avoid condensation. The rest of Bertie was not so warm; the water in our kettle was frozen in the morning and we had an iceberg floating in our water carrier. The toilet took some coaxing to open. We couldn’t tell what the temperature was because the cold killed the LCD display on our thermometer, but we must have been a long way below zero.

Somehow it was my job to jump out of bed in the morning to put the heating on. This warmed Bertie up and after a couple of hours we were able to venture out to don some clothing which had been warming above the oil filled radiator (this seemed to have a sphere of influence roughly a meter in diameter, enough to warm clothes but not enough to warm the van). The first night was deemed a success, we had both slept reasonably well and Bertie hadn’t fallen apart with the cold. During the sunny day Bertie warmed up sufficiently to make it pleasantly warm on our return from skiing and we jealously conserved this heat by closing the blinds before it could escape.

We continued this approach for the rest of the holiday. It may seem like hardship, but the worst part was having to get up to turn the heating on in the morning. The rest of the time we were perfectly comfortable – honestly – but in future we’ll be trying to avoid temperatures quite that low.  

 

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