After it became clear that a global health crisis was underway this spring, about half of Moterra Campervans’ bookings for the early summer evaporated.
It was an unsettling experience that many Jackson Hole business owners can empathize with, but co-owner and founder Gabe Aufderheide was heartened to see that cooped-up valley residents stepped in to ease some of the slack in demand.
“We’ve seen a huge uptick in local demand — more than we’ve ever seen with the business,” he said. “I think everyone is itching to get out and are excited to explore, because they’re not going anywhere else.”
Moterra’s beginnings trace to 2016, when Aufderheide and business partner Trevor James bought a van after departing Backroads, a cycling tour company, where they had led groups. It was a natural transition, and the duo of Jackson Hole residents quickly spun the idea into some success.
“We started with one camper van from Sportsmobile, our builder, and it’s quickly blossomed into a full-fledged business,” Aufderheide said. “We’ve moved up to 14 vans in a short amount of time. With Jackson being our main hub, we’ve also expanded to having four hubs in total.”
Aufderheide and James strategically selected the other locations because of their seasonality and proximity to public lands.
Jackson and Kalispell, Montana, are the primary summertime markets, being gateways to Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Glacier national parks.
The Salt Lake City hub attracts spring van rentals because it’s a launchpad for Utah’s vast public lands, and a fourth location in the San Francisco Bay area serves as a “year-round workhorse,” he said.
Moterra is an abbreviation of the Latin words for “motion on land.” Sportsmobile, which designs the rigs, has made them two models: One is a pop-top style van that sleeps up to four people and is more geared toward families, while the second is a hardtop van that’s sized more for couples.
All come with bathrooms and showers (toilets are optional), kitchenettes and beds. Renters basically have to show up and go get groceries, and then they’re ready for a self-sufficient trip.
The 19-foot-long vehicles don’t need RV hookups, and most can reach remote locations owing to four-wheel drive and good clearance. That setup allows Aufderheide’s clients to be creative and look outside the box of a typical national parks road trip. Branching out has come naturally for the past two months, while the parks were closed.
“It’s forcing people to have more vision and go explore the Wind River Range, or go over to Thermopolis or Teton Valley,” he said. “The coolest place I’ve probably taken one of our vans is out around Zion, and Hurricane Plateau, and those dirt roads that go on forever.”
With the national parks reopening, the bread-and-butter travelers from afar are starting to trickle back. Interest spiked in the last week, Auferheide said, with some of the highest visitation yet to their website.
“Looking forward the end of summer we’re seeing a lot of people starting to book in August and September,” he said. “We feel — and a lot of our customers feel — like we might be the best alternative for local summer travel this year, because our vans are self-contained.”