Chris Benchetler is an eclectic inspiration, pursuing the outdoors in nearly every aspect of his life.
From skiing to climbing to surfing to biking, he has made a name for himself in the world of outdoor sports. Additionally, he finds the time to explore passions of art and travel. Last year, he teamed up with GoPro to produce an awesome video about buying and converting a 4×4 Sprinter Van and hitting the road in pursuit of his favorite outdoor activities. We reached out to him to learn more about his one-of-a-kind van, which he calls “The Stealthy Marmot”, and the adventures the van provides.
Can you begin by telling us a bit about yourself and your story? What kind of adventure vehicle is the Stealthy Marmot (make/model/year)?
I am a professional skier. I’m also very into surfing, rock climbing, art, and mountain biking. I have always been intrigued with slowing life down, simplifying, and spending more time doing the activities I love, so the van was a perfect fit. We have a 4×4 Mercedes Sprinter, 170” WB, converted for all of those listed activities.
What was your drive behind buying and building a van? Was it something you always wanted to do?
Yes. My wife, Kimmy Fasani, grew up traveling and living out of a Westfalia with her mom. Unfortunately, her mom got sick with cancer and was getting rid of her van. It had around 250K miles on it and had seen a lot of roads, so my wife wouldn’t let us take it. That lit the fire, and I’ve always wanted to do a trip up the west coast skiing, surfing, and climbing, so I pitched a project to GoPro and made a movie about it – ‘Chasing AdVANture‘.
There are so many different rigs out there to choose from. What was your thought process when purchasing the van? How did you decide on the 4×4 MB Sprinter?
I actually had some help for the film project from Sonic Automotive. I was in the market for any 4×4 van or box truck (or even converting something to 4×4 on our own), so when we partnered up, they had the 4×4 Sprinter 170 available at one of their dealerships in Northern California. That said, I was willing to make anything work because I had the help from my friend Scotty Smith – Smith Made – who could build out anything.
Your van is one of the more unique builds I’ve seen. The art incorporated throughout the entire thing is just amazing. Was everything planned out in advance or did you guys tweak the plans and design along the way?
Yeah, Scotty and I sat down and designed the basic layout, but then he recreated a lot of my art work, which was all his idea. It was an opportunity for him to take creative license and really showcase his skills for the GoPro film.
What was your favorite part of the van conversion process? Least favorite?
My favorite part of the van conversion process was having the freedom and help to build anything we could dream of. It was like building our dream home. My least favorite part was how limited our time frame was to get it ready in time for winter. I don’t think Scotty slept for 45 days. And I only got a few hours of sleep.
A common theme I’ve seen is that most people wish they did at least one thing differently. Are you happy with the specific vehicle you purchased and the build itself? Is there anything you would change if you could redo it?
I get asked that a lot. I actually don’t think there is anything I would change, which is crazy. Some way to keep the mountain bikes inside, but that loses a lot of critical storage space, so I don’t know how I would accomplish that. Also, we could of made some slight adjustments getting ready for adding a toddler to the mix (we just had a son 3 months ago), but honestly it’s very functional and comfortable for all the sports we do. So if there was something to change I haven’t figured out how I would change it yet.
What was the transition of moving into the van like for you? Was it something you found came naturally? Were there any challenges you didn’t foresee?
It was both easy and tough. I had all the comforts of home and am very used to camping. I’ve camped my whole life. The main challenge was sharing the tight space as friends. If it was just the family it would have been much easier, but since we were making a movie I had my filmer with me all season. There’s a lot of down days and not a lot of space to log footage, edit, stretch out, so we would find friends houses or air bnb’s for him a lot of the time and I would stay in the van. I also didn’t account for drying out all his camera gear which was tough. There is a lot of moisture in BC, so having batteries, drones, cameras everywhere drying really take up your living space.
Can you walk me through your 4 months on the road? What your goals were for the time, the route you took, etc.
The main goal was to stick to the West coast and head North chasing snow, surf, and rocks. I wasn’t stuck on any real time frame or certain location, just a general idea of where we wanted to go. For example, the plan was to make it all the way to AK, but since the skiing was so good in BC we just stayed in Canada until the end.
Many of your hobbies require a fair amount of gear. Do you feel like you have enough storage space and adequate organization for it all in the van?
Yeah definitely. Like I said, it would be nice to fit bikes inside, but I have so much other gear it’s not realistic. So yeah, the system works great.
A common theme for those who live in vans is simplicity when cooking. When living in the van full-time, did you have a go-to meal or snack? If so, what was it?
Yeah, I actually have a freezer, which helps tremendously. There is organic/sustainable frozen foods available nowadays that you just need to heat up on the stove. This made it super easy to eat really good meals actually. I also even have a mini vita-mix blender, so I would have smoothies every morning too. I really did have all the amenities of home. Peanut butter banana is my quick go-to I guess.
Where are some places that you want to take the van but haven’t gotten around to yet?
Mexico. And still Alaska some day.
You mentioned that you recently had a baby, Koa John. Congratulations! I also saw that you’ve already installed a car seat for him and taken him out on the road. What places are you most looking forward to showing him as he grows up?
Thanks!! He’s awesome. Honestly all of it. We want to introduce him to how special this planet is, and just the surrounding coast lines and mountains. We really love where we live so staying close to home and using the van as a second home is a really nice way to show him and as he grows, we will go further and further.
What are your long-term goals with the van? Do you see yourself keeping it or living in it full-time in the future?
We talked about going a full year before we had Koa, but with a new-born that’s a bit more challenging. Maybe when he’s toddler age we will revisit that idea.
Lastly, is there anything else you would like to add or share?
If you are looking for a wizard to build your van hit up Smith Made. He seriously blew my mind with his skills and attention to detail. All the way down to avoiding every chemical, VOC, etc… There are a lot of shitty materials out there that off-gas bad chemicals into your home since car’s heat up and cool down so often.
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