Building a Ski Cabin

It’s no secret that flexibility is an important ingredient in a great ski season. And there are a bunch of impediments to ski flexibility; distance from the mountains, the cost of skiing, job commitments and the availability of last minute lodging.

ski cabin

Our solution to two of these issues was building a ski cabin in the Adirondacks. Our little building helps us keep the cost of skiing down and give us the lodging flexibility to get 30+ ski-days/year.

Recently another fanatical snow rider asked me if I would share what I learned doing this project. This details some of what we learned building the cabin. One caveat…this entry could be called “Building a Ski Cabin in the Central Adirondacks.” Some of what follows is specific to the area.

Find Good Contractors

Find reliable contractors you can trust. This is even more important than it is when you are don’t live near the construction site. If you CAN’T be there every night to check on things it’s even more important have contractors who are honest, fair and will return your calls.

If you are considering the Central Adirondacks – you could check out the following men that I use and trust. All I ask is that if you contact these tradesmen – you treat them with respect and you pay them promptly.

BUILDER: Mike Hill is based in Schroon Lake. He didn’t build our cabin but I wish he did. He did build our bathroom — a separate building — and he did a great job. It’s very tight. He’s got integrity, he works hard and his gives his guys health insurance. His real game is building houses, but he’ll do a smaller job and give it the attention it deserves.

Michael Hill Construction
881 East Shore Drive
Adirondack, NY 12808
518-494-4548

EXCAVATION, SEPTIC, LOGGING: Ernest Clark is one of the best guys you’ll ever meet. He’s quiet, hard working and reliable. He’s a logger, and he does all those other things that loggers do. Road building, grading, tree and stump removal and septic work. He’s given me great advice that’s saved me money and hassles.

Ernest Clark
910 Byrd Pond Road
North Creek, NY 12853
(518) 251-3720

WELL DRILLING: Garry Wolfe – He was professional, stuck to his price and dealt with the pump man…who is a separate guy. In remote areas it seems like there will be one well guy for the area – you may not have a choice. In North Creek, it’s Garry. This can be expensive work. More on that below.

Garry Wolfe Drilling
14 West Holcomb Street
North Creek, NY 12853
(518) 251-2212

Good local contractors have solid relationships with inspectors and can help with permits. Don’t underestimate the importance of this.

Figure Out What You Need

Figure out how much space you REALLY NEED. Our building is TINY. 12′ x 18. The majority of our trips up are long weekends. If you are used to camping, 12 x 18 is a pretty big tent. While a small building may cramp your style a little when you take longer trips to the mountains…. it saves you money on an ongoing basis. Heat and maintenance are cheap in a small building. If you can keep the building under 400 sq feet your building may be classified as a SEASONAL RESIDENCE which can really reduce your property tax.

Know the Neighborhood

Be aware of who owns next to you. While this could change, the kinds of people who buy in an area remains fairly consistent in non-urban neighborhood. Get an idea of who owns the adjacent property and how long they’ve lived there. We’ve had the good fortune to have most of the land around us preserved for the future by covenant. For us, this is ideal. If you can help it, don’t build right up against your property line.

Understand Your Land

Understand the terrain on your building site. Our property is at elevation of 2000′ and the land is very ledgy, without much soil. We knew this and made a conscious choice to be up at a high elevation for a variety of (romantic) reasons. Just be clear that if your property has thin soils, septic systems can be more costly. Even if you don’t think you’ll ever want a septic system or a water line — these are things OTHER people definitely want and this can effect property value and resale.

Take Time to Develop a Site Plan

Have your final site plan figured out before you do anything. If at all possible…buy the land and hold it for a few years before building. Camp on it before you build. You want to see that property at all times of year. Where is it WET in the spring? How does the sun hit it? We did this for 4 years before building and our site plan is perfect. Put your building in a spot that is high, dry, and captures your imagination.

Placement of septic and well is key. They have to be removed from each other – at least 150 feet apart and the well has to be “above” the septic in elevation so there is no chance of contamination. Work it out so that you never have to drive over or plow above your septic or well. The snow insulates everything and you want it to pile up.

Driveway Design

Consider the pros and cons of driveway length and design. Our place is probably 450’ from the road. We love the feeling of remoteness. We can’t hear cars from the road or see headlights. In fact, at night we can’t see any light at all except the moon and stars. But understand that initial expenses are higher – driveway construction and electrical lines. And ongoing maintenance is higher – think about the cost of plowing. Also with regard to plowing…include space for the plow guy to “store” extra snow.

Well Drilling

Expect to pay $10 a foot for well drilling. Make sure to figure in the cost of the pump, the lines and any fill over the top of your water line. You just don’t know how far down you’ll have to go. How deep your neighbors had to go has no bearing on your well – so budgeting is hard. We had to go over 400 feet. Drilling, pump, lines and fill was almost $8000. There can be advantages to having a deep well – ask your well man to explain “static pressure.” There is certain amount of luck involved – the CFM your well will deliver and the static pressure of your well are out of your control.

Septic

When spec’ing a septic system, consider the future. 1000 gallon may be the minimum, but you may want a 2 or 3 bedroom house someday. The last thing you want to do is decide in 10 years you want a bigger place and your septic isn’t up to the job. If the land is ledgy – not much topsoil – consider a “lowboy.” It’s a flatter septic tank that requires less topsoil to install.

Electric

If you are bringing electric service in from the road consider going underground. This is a big advantage and doesn’t actually cost much more. It’s nicer visually and it removes the issues of losing power in wind or ice storms. If you do lose power then it happened out on the road and the power company will handle it.

If you are running wires more than a hundred feet or so, you’ll need either extra heavy duty wire, or a transformer. If you don’t choose one of those options, your VOLTAGE will drop over that distance and it will cause ALL KINDS of trouble. Your well pump will burn out. We chose to go with the wire. It was a little more expensive but much simpler. And it leaves the power company out of the process.

Consider running a conduit in your trench for running future cable without more digging.

Our excavator – Ernie Clark – ran a phone line in with our electric wire without even mentioning it. I never thought we’d want a phone in the cabin, but now there is no question that I can ski MORE because I have the ability to work from the mountains. First tracks in the morning. Work, internet and phone calls in the afternoon. Ski blogging at night.

Foundation

Put your building up high on the foundation. If you get 15+ feet of snow a year – it builds up. When the snow comes off the roof and piles up near the sides, it’s better if it builds up against the foundation than the siding.

Roof

Build the steepest roof you can. Go to 45 degrees if you like the way it looks. Make it metal. You never have to shovel it, it will last a long time, and when it’s dumping outside – the snow just slides off.

Plumbing

If you install plumbing, design a system that is easy to drain. All of our pipes are pitched to a low point so draining is fairly simple. We use a tankless hot water heater. It’s a little more expensive WHILE you are using it, but cost NOTHING when you aren’t – which for us is most of the year.

Our pipes are on the interior of our heated building. You have to look at them, but we don’t mind. It takes less heat to keep them from freezing and they are easier to repair when they aren’t buried in the walls.

I hope this is helpful to anyone considering this kind of project. I’m sure there are things I’ve forgotten, so I’ll continue to update this entry. If you are thinking about building a ski cabin and want to connect, post a comment.

3 comments on “Building a Ski Cabin

  1. Harv – Excellent read, it will help anyone thinking of building a cabin. We built a new log cabin in 2009/10 in your general area. One area you skipped in the process is… if purchasing land, where do I find an honest attorney (oxymoron to most folks!)? I would just like to add that I have never met a fairer, kinder more professional man in any field than Jim Cooper (Esq) of Warrensburg. He has a great sense of humor to top it off!! As for well drillers, I used the same one as you. Like you, I had heard some good things. I will only say I wish my experience was as positive as yours! Best to leave it at that. Love the pics of your cabin!

  2. Beautiful cabin. I am thinking of having something similar built in the North Creek/North River area – tried calling Mike Hlll, but got a home phone message machine and he didn’t return by call. Do you know if he is still in business? Other trustworthy North Creek area contractors who might be infested in a small job like this?

    Also, are you willing to share your plans?

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