This mountain cabin for a family of six is located at 7,080 feet elevation on Sugar Bowl ski resort in the Sierra Nevada Range. Anchored on the slope, and responsive to its setting, the cabin design explores the intersection of classic aesthetics, craft, and climatic conditions addressed in traditional Tyrolean homes.
Founded in 1939, Sugar Bowl is one of the oldest ski areas in America. The climate and topography around the mountain makes for unusually heavy snowfall, and its relatively small residential village (103 home sites) is typically snow-bound through the winter. The cabin is perched on one of the highest sites in the resort and is a true ski-in, ski-out cabin, being substantially higher elevation than the bases of many of the lifts.
The clients, who have four young children, wanted a cabin that would serve as a gathering place for generations, prioritizing communal and social space, with the qualities of “nesting” and entertaining discussed. A particular requirement was to orient the house to take advantage of the privacy created by the forest upslope, with the goal of celebrating the home’s presence in the woods with a maximum of transparency.
The cabin is anchored to the mountain through the use of board formed concrete diaphragms that also establish its structural grid, with a nearly square footprint designed to minimize its impact on the land. This first floor is reminiscent of old stone ground levels of Tyrolean mountainside chalets, while cantilevered deck supports emphasize the cabin’s perch on the slope. The ground floor ski-in/ski-out entry, sauna, ski room, laundry and movie screening area are all designed to be buried in snow, with paths dug to the access points– a longtime tradition at Sugar Bowl.
Western hemlock was chosen for its richness of color and the priceless quality of not becoming orange over the years. Clean lines are an indelible factor in the home’s design. Built on a 5.5-inch datum, every board, shelf, window and door in the house lines up on the measurement from the foundation to the roof.
The main level is organized around a double height living room, anchored by the chimney mass that grows out of the concrete formwork below. This room brings the size and scale of the surrounding forest inside through views to the evergreens and the log columns that hold up the cantilevered roof. The lower-ceilinged dining room and library, together with the living room, achieve the family’s desire for a central communal space and provide opportunities to socialize as a group or break off into smaller gatherings. Sheltered by the projecting roof structure, a cantilevered deck that extends out over the slope on three sides forms an extension of this social space for outdoor activities in warmer months.
Large, peeled-wood columns made of Douglas fir wrap around steel beams in the slightly sunken great room, evoking the feel of a large tree trunk inside. Hickory flooring complements the western hemlock walls.
Vertical movement through the house is accomplished with a three-story steel staircase on the North side, framed in a giant window with valley and mountain views. This window allows for a sense of transparency through the house and contrasts with other relatively small, ‘punched’ openings in the façade. The stair is seen as both a social crossroads and a tactile expression of the craft and exhilaration strove for in designing a project in such a dramatic location.
The upper level of the house is the most private, containing four bedrooms – two principal bedroom suites and two bunk rooms. These rooms are arranged around the music loft which overlooks the living room and stairwell, providing a sense of connection to the social activity of the main level.
The roof is composed of a radiating series of glulam beams designed to take a snow load of over 400 lbs per square foot live load. The splayed form holds the snow it receives, an approach taken both for additional insulation and to maintain accessibility on three sides of the house while minimizing concern for falling snow and ice. SIP panels with continuous foam installation and this “cold roof” design minimize heat loss during even the coldest months of the year. Extending the roof over the Southwest-facing deck shades the house in the summer and allows for passive solar gain in the winter.
The residence is designed to express the materials of which it was constructed with an emphasis on natural finishes – in the belief that the beauty of nests is rooted in the way materials come together to form an integrated whole. As a nest, the house is a product of the landscape that surrounds it, yet distinctly and cohesively recognizable as a discreet form within it.