Tiny Cabin, Giant View

A snowboarder’s cabin in the Sierras has no bedroom, no bathroom— but a hot tub and a (nearly completed) ski lift.

A snowboarder’s cabin in the Sierras has no bedroom, no bathroom-but a hot tub and a (nearly completed) ski lift. WSJ’s Conor Dougherty joins Lunch Break with a look at pro snowboarder Mike Basich’s mountain retreat

Just about anyone who has ever lived in an over-cluttered home has at some point declared that one day they’ll ditch it all and live simply. Mike Basich did it.

Mr. Basich, a 40-year-old pro snowboarder, has spent the past several years building his dream home near Lake Tahoe. About 10 miles outside Truckee, Calif., the house sits 3 miles beyond a quiet road that has a few mailboxes but not much else. In the winter, it can only be accessed by a snowmobile, snowcat or other kind of tracked vehicle.


Mr. Basich’s property is 40 acres, crisscrossed with creeks and boasting views of the Sierra Nevada, but the house itself is smaller than the average cramped studio apartment. It’s 228 square feet, doesn’t have laundry and the bathroom is outside.

“I’ve eliminated a lot of stuff by choosing to have a small place and a big yard,” says Mr. Basich, who has scraggly brown hair and usually needs a shave. The house is about 25% glass and lacks curtains, so he gets up with the sun and goes to sleep with the stars. In between, his typical activities include snowboarding on an adjacent hill or hiking with his Siberian husky, Summit.

The electricity comes from a solar panel on his porch. The running water comes from snowmelt. All of the heat—for warmth, for the soapstone oven, for the hot tub—is generated by wood fires.

Inside the house, there aren’t any rooms or closets. The inside and outside walls are made of granite stones that form the house’s shell, and the sleeping area is a small loft that sits only a few feet below the ceiling. A range of household items, from baked beans to bear spray, are in open view.

His TV is rarely on and doesn’t get reception or cable. On a recent evening, the lone bookshelf had a small collection of snowboard magazines along with a book titled “Tiny Homes.” Mr. Basich’s indulgences include a hot tub on the porch along with a ski lift that, when finished, will rise 600 feet up a nearby hill.

Building is another activity that takes up a good deal of Mr. Basich’s time. Over the past decade, he says, he bought and sold a half-dozen rental and investment properties, all of which he extensively renovated. He designed the pentagon-shaped house himself, and has lived on the property—in a tent, under tarps—through various stages of completion. He and friends collected the granite from the surrounding property. He milled all the wood himself, most of it from a combination of pine and Douglas-fir trees on his land.

From the deer-antler doorknobs to the oak coffee table inlaid with petrified mammoth bone, nearly everything in the house comes with a story about Mr. Basich’s labors. Asked if there was anything in the house he didn’t build, Mr. Basich responded deadpan, “My computer.”

Mr. Basich grew up in Fair Oaks, Calif., near Sacramento, and became a professional snowboarder in 1991. He competed until 2000 but quit to focus on backcountry riding. Today, sponsors like Flow Snowboards and GoPro pay him to travel the world taking self-portraits of his snowboarding that they use to promote their products.


His house and land, which he calls “Area 241,” after a small clothing company he owns, are a part of that image. He has an Area 241 iPhone application with regular updates of his doings. Also, for $2,500 a day, he rents out the property for private parties and commercial shoots (Mountain Dew was a recent client). He says the fees cover his mortgage and then some.

Back when he was a contest professional, Mr. Basich bought a five-bedroom home on a Salt Lake City cul-de-sac. Over time, he started to hate the abundance of space, along with the time and money it took to maintain it. In 2002, after his move to backcountry snowboarding, he sold it to live in his van.


In 2004, a real-estate-agent friend tipped off Mr. Basich to 40 undeveloped acres that were up for sale. He fell in love right away and paid $225,000 for the land and has since put about $20,000—plus five years of labor—into building the house. Bret Churchman, an associate broker with Coldwell Banker in Truckee, says similar lots are on the market for between $500,000 and $1 million, depending on how much infrastructure they have and whether or not they can be divided into smaller parcels.

Mr. Basich, who lives alone, travels about half the year and maintains a small apartment in Colfax, about 40 minutes away. He notes that while it might seem limiting to live in a small house with few appliances, the lack of choice is freeing. This past Christmas Eve, Mr. Basich and his girlfriend made dinner by cooking duck, potatoes, turnips, butter, spices and wine in a pot over the fire.

One of Mr. Basich’s complaints is that people don’t always respect his privacy. He says a friend recently told him that he and some buddies went to the house and had beers on the porch. The friend said it was too bad Mr. Basich wasn’t home.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

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