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 including but not limited to; 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 NYSkiBlog HQ in the Adirondacks. Our little building helps us keep the cost of skiing down and give us the lodging flexibility to get 30+ skidays each year.

Recently another fanatical snow rider asked me if I would share what I learned doing this project. This piece details some of what we learned building the cabin.

Find Good Contractors

Find reliable contractors you can trust. This is even more important 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.

Good local contractors do good work at a fair price. But more than that, they have solid relationships with inspectors and can help with permits. Don’t underestimate the importance of this.

If you are considering the South Central Adirondacks including the Gore Mountain Region, email me. Good contractors aren’t easy to find in the mountains. I’m willing to share the contact information of some very solid tradesmen. All I ask is that if you contact them — you treat them with respect and you pay them promptly.

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 the mountains. Get an idea of who owns the adjacent property and how long they’ve lived there. 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 1900′ and the land is very ledgy, without much soil. We knew this and still made a conscious choice to be up at a high elevation. 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.

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. 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 feels right for us. 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 by the foot for well drilling. We paid $10 per foot in 2006.  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.


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.


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 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 we can ski more because we can work from the mountains. First tracks in the morning. Work, internet and phone calls in the afternoon. Ski blogging at night.


Put your building up high on the foundation. If you get 10+ 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.


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. When it’s dumping outside — the snow just slides off.


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 maintain if 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 we’d love to hear about your plans: 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 interested in a small job like this?

    Also, are you willing to share your plans?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *