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Base Camp: Cody Cirillo and Kellyn Wilson’s Powderchasing Schoolbus

When I first met Kellyn Wilson seven years ago, we were the new interns at Ski Magazine's offices in Boulder, Colorado. Learning the ins and outs of the ski media trade was certainly a large part of our days, but figuring out how to chase powder and make a life in the mountains was what we were really there for. Turns out we went to school together at the University of Colorado, and we soon figured out we had lots of friends in common that shared that same vision for living life simply. Things were a bit different back then, with priorities focused on going to class, organizing bags for gear tests, skiing as much as possible, and figuring life out as it came. Well, to be honest, things haven’t changed all too much for Kellyn and her boyfriend Cody Cirillo. I think you’ll find their life to be pretty awesome. Cody skis for Faction and works at a design agency while Kellyn is now a skier and writer, currently working on a children’s book she hopes to release soon. 

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Cody and Kellyn still live a pretty simple existence, skiing more than they don't and spending lots of time on the road. They’ve moved into a small yellow school bus, which is now their home away from home for month-long ski missions all across the continent. The Honey House Bus, their affectionate nickname for their home on wheels, is quite the rig, and the two have certainly learned their lessons about making things work in whatever way possible. With a 1962 Chevrolet School Bus as a base, they added a few technical upgrades, namely an engine from an old Camaro, some parts from a Thunderbird, and of course one of the coolest retro-inspired interiors we’ve ever seen in a build like this. Living in an inherently unreliable vehicle has proved both challenging and extremely rewarding, and Cody and Kellyn absolutely love it.

For this installment in TGR’s Base Camp series, I caught up with my old friends, to see how life has treated them on the road and to learn a little more about the highs and lows of building the Honey House Bus.

Cody Cirillo and Kellyn Wilson in front of home sweet home. Kellyn Wilson photo.

Hey guys, for those who aren’t familiar with your lives, can you give a quick introduction on who you each are?

Cody Cirillo: I’m a professional skier based out of Breckenridge, Colorado and together with my girlfriend Kellyn Wilson own a 1962 Chevrolet school bus that we converted into a tiny mobile powderchasing home.

Kellyn Wilson: I’m a skier, and a future children’s book author, and I live in a bus. Cody and I both competed in skiing in the past, and now we’ve both started to look in other directions, like film projects and creative projects around the bus. There’s always something to be done with it, it’s really a constant project where we can change stuff and work on it. We really like the fact that we can tailor it to what we need for what we like to do.

What’s up with the bus right now?

KW: You know, it’s really not meant for summer we’ve come to realize. We built everything in it with winter in mind and staying warm while skiing. Of course, with everything on hold right now, we’re back in Colorado actually living at my childhood home waiting until we can start the next chapter. Were planning to move to Telluride soon, so it’s a good time to continue working on and fixing stuff though!

Cirillo digging deep to find a cure for an engine problem. Kellyn Wilson photo.

Tell me some more about the design.

KW: Like I said, we built it all out with winter in mind, so we’ve got stuff like our little wood stove, it’s super insulated. We have a propane heat source as a backup. Our shower has turned into our gear closet, with a ton of hooks for jackets and skis and stuff. One of my favorite parts is all the re-claimed wood on the walls. I got it from this guy in Leadville who collects wood from abandoned barns in Wyoming. Our couch pulls out into a twin-size bed that’s actually great for guests. We’ve had some friends snuggle up on there, that’s always a good time.

Cozy warmth provided by a cast-iron wood-burning stove. Kellyn Wilson photos.

CC: We were super intentional about everything we put into it, from the way we laid out the build and construction, to all the materials we actually used in building it. We tried to use as many re-claimed materials as we could and up-source a lot of things. But of course, we wanted to make it comfortable for winter and that means brutal cold in the mornings, so we had to make sure we had a couple of creature comforts like the stove and RV-style propane heater. My favorite recent addition is a Jimmy Buffett Margaritaville propane grill that mounts to the front hitch. It’s the perfect thing for rocking in the parking lot after skiing.

Clean lines in the vintage interior. Kellyn Wilson photo.

Where did it all start? After college, we all went our separate ways, and all of a sudden Cody and Kellyn were in a school bus. What happened there?

CC: At the time, Kellyn was finishing up school with a study abroad semester in South America, and I had been looking pretty religiously at busses online to try and build one. We had always been interested in stuff like trailers or tiny-homes, and then an opportunity kind of presented itself on Craigslist in Blackfoot, Idaho. There were only a couple of photos of it but seeing the outside of the bus and the 1960s aesthetic really captivated me. I went out to Idaho and checked out the bus in this lot and it was pretty janky. Not the best gut feeling right off the bat, but I knew if we got the price low enough we should go for it.

We brought the bus to a mechanic with the owner, and it actually died right there and wouldn’t start anymore. It was kind of a funny situation to be poised to take over this hot mess right then.

KW: I barely knew anything about since I was in South America still, so I was just getting these quick updates about how beat up it was and how it wasn’t running and the mechanic said it would need a ton of work. Then the next thing I heard was “I bought it and its coming home with me.”

That certainly sounds like the beginning to a grand adventure. What happened next?

CC: It actually took two attempts to bring it home. The first time it wasn’t going to come back. I took my dad and some buddies later in the year to go grab the bus a second time. We picked it up and stoke was high that everything was going to work. We started driving it, and all I thought was “we need to get it down to Colorado and then we can fix it.” Of course, about 60 miles into the drive we heard this gnarly knocking noise and it died right there again. I knew the engine was over it, so we got it towed back the same mechanic who ended up putting in a new engine. A month or so later it was ready to go and made it back to Colorado just fine.

KW: Since then, we’ve replaced just about everything mechanically in it. There’s a Camaro engine, there’s a piece of a Thunderbird, and new transmission. It’s a little Frankenstein bus.

Sometimes you need a little extra help getting home. Kellyn Wilson photo.

What was the toughest thing you guys have learned about having the bus be a part of your life?

KW: I think the toughest thing is just getting used to having a completely different lifestyle. It’s a totally different way of traveling. As soon as you’re in it, it’s all really slow. It’s not always super comfortable, it’s super cold in the morning. When you come back from skiing, you can’t just turn on the heat and watch TV. That comfort challenge might be hardest thing, but’s definitely also the most rewarding.

CC: There definitely was a lot of learning to be done. It involved curbing our expectations, but also realizing that when problems that seem like the end of the world pop up, we can actually get out them on our own. The day when we took out on our first big trip to the PNW last year, it broke down five times. That was Kellyn’s biggest fear – breaking down on Day 1. But after that it was fine for the rest of the trip! I think that set the tone for how we view traveling in the bus. We never really know if we’re going to make it a mile, or if everything will be fine for the whole year.

Once you got it up and running and finished the interior, it was time to hit the road. Can you tell us about some of your adventures?

KW: We’ve kind of done the same trip twice now over the course of two years. We started off driving to Utah, and got great snow. Then we headed up to Mt. Baker, which has the most legendary parking lot scene when it comes to vehicles. There are just so many crazy machines up there. Most times on the road, you feel like the odd one out, but in that parking lot, you definitely have some clout.

A rare scene: alone in the Mt. Baker parking lot. Kellyn Wilson photo.

CC: This year we actually made it there for the legendary banked slalom, which is such a cool community event. After Baker, we headed up into BC and focused on skiing around Golden and Revelstoke. I had a Faction shoot up there last year. It was so cold during that time, so we luckily had a place to stay that wasn’t the bus. The French filmers actually called it the "white hell." Kellyn was skinning for hours with like three puffy jackets on. This year, we kind of did the same thing, but were actually filming our own movie the whole time.

Tell us about making the movie!

CC: We were planning on doing a movie this year after figuring out our route last year connecting all those mountains and the story we wanted to tell about the bus. This year, we got an opportunity through Picture Organic, who I started skiing for in the fall. They came on and helped us make the film with Joey Schusler and Wiley Kaupas. It’s about us and the bus and the trip we went on this year where we met up with some friends in each location. It was an awesome winter, but super busy! It was good to go out the year before and understand what living in the bus for three months would take. It’s fun but it’s so exhausting. Especially if you have be mentally prepared to hit a big jump or something the next day, it can be a little rough.

KW: You don’t really know what it’s like to live in the bus until you actually do it. Up in Baker this year, it rained more than I’ve ever seen in my life. It destroyed the bus! Our bed was soaked for like three weeks, and we didn’t really have a choice but to sleep in it. Things leaked that had never leaked before, it’s just a different kind of rain up there. But we made it work!

From The Column: Base Camp

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