Originally featured in Snowboard Mag Vol. 10, Issue 2 | The 10 Year Anniversary Issue
Location: In the unknown pockets of Donner Summit, California.
Square Feet: 300
Special Features: Strategically built to harness the power of the wind and sun for warmth and less shoveling. Acts much like a tree well.
Snowboard guru Mike Basich knows a thing or two about Mountain Life Design, having dedicated his life wholeheartedly to the shred. A legendary do-it-yourselfer, Mike graced the very first cover of Snowboard Mag with one of our favorite shots of all time, a backside three high above the Alaskan wilderness, which of course, he shot himself. It’s this kind of imagination that has allowed Mike to stay relevant for two decades in pro snowboarding. These days, Mike and his husky Summit are living the good life, far from the conveniences of modern American society at a little slice of heaven he calls Area-241– a secret domicile tucked in the wilds of Lake Tahoe. Devoid of light or sound pollution, it’s a place where the stars shine bright and the air is clean. It’s off the grid with epic terrain right out the back door. Above all, Area-241 is a creative, peaceful place where the snow is deep and his dreams have come to life. It’s a dwelling that reflects not only Mike’s inventive nature, but maybe more importantly, his appreciation for life.
When did you create Area-241?
I started the adventure with Area-241 in Dec. of 2004, one of the biggest winters in a long time and it was a huge struggle after getting 17 feet of snow the week I got it. I got the place two days before Christmas and it took me days just to get up there.
How did you choose the location?
I never thought of living off a groomed road, but I grew up learning how to snowboard on Donner Summit and the granite here has always been a magnet for me. After dreaming for so many years about building my own place, this seemed to offer all that plus the extra things I have become so thankful for that have fallen into place.
What was your inspiration & vision behind Area-241?
I spent a good chunk of my early days as a pro snowboarder, and as an athlete I wanted to figure out how to involve the rest of my inspiration in life. I felt there was so much more I wanted to share with people about the mountains. I love building stuff way too much to not have it be a part of my snowboarding. I learned through my clothing company, Two For One, that teaching people a lifestyle can lead to something timeless. And most of all, Area-241 is a place I get to create whatever I dream without any rules to fight through.
“I feel like it’s something a little closer to the truth of existence.”
Is the shape of your home directly related to Da Vinci’s The Vitruvian Man design?
Yes, Da Vinci was the one to map out this law of nature for all of us to understand. I have learned that the less you know and when you get rid of a tape measure, your true instinct will lead you into the Golden Ratio law. It’s in all of us. It’s what we are built under as a proportion. When you do this with buildings it makes it much more inviting for the body to be in.
How long did it take to build?
It took me four years to create an enclosed, windproof place. It took another year or so to finish the floor, deck and some other things. Building season is pretty short here because you can’t drive up here with a car until the road melts, which on average is late July, and then snow can come as soon as mid-October. Lots of stuff was done in winter, but mixing cement in the snow is a very hard thing to do and that was the mass of the building material.
Were eco-conscious materials a priority?
I was most interested in building something that would last. I have worked with wood most of my life, but spending a winter up here I soon realized if I built something out of wood I would be oiling it every year, and that means lots of maintenance. So with 80% of the property being rock, I decided to learn how to work with rocks. As the main goal, I did make a choice to put myself in a place where I would be forced to experience everything I use in life in a hands-on scenario. I wanted to see if doing it all myself would force me to change my ways. When you need to carry everything yourself and go to great lengths just so you can turn a light bulb on, you start to shift and work with the elements of nature – go to sleep with the moon and get up with the sun, play with water when it’s around and when it’s not you become very focused and thankful for what it brings to your day. It is easy to forget about stuff this way, but when you remember these things, just brushing your teeth can become an amazing experience.
Are you off the grid?
Yep! The only thing out here is a little bit of cell range, which again was by choice to be far enough from it that it wasn’t worth looking into to connect. It’s actually been a great trade-off, because things like this have made this adventure affordable.
What room do you spend the most time in? (Trick question.)
There is only one room! I have chosen to build everything in the walls you could say – the stove, couches, shelves, and there is a small loft for sleeping. It is all built off the Golden Ratio. It’s a pretty small space actually, but I spend most of my day outside so l have learned my living space can be pretty small and super comfy. The toilet is outside on its own.
Talk about the outside hot tub, built in the rocks…
This was an inspiration from traveling the world and experiencing hot springs and soaking tubs. I looked into firewood hot tubs, but everything out there had to have water in at all times. So I came up with the idea to buy an old dairy stainless tank, cut it to depth, and then cut off the top of a fireplace and stick it under the tank. I needed something that didn’t have pipes due to freezing problems; it has been an awesome add-on. It’s right off the deck and I have a cold plunge next to it. In the winter the creek water takes about 7 hours to reach 105F, and in the summer when the creek is still running it takes about 3-4 hours to reach 105F.
How many powder days do you get in your own backyard?
I have had some of the best days I have ever had here. Having your own snowcat adds a very unique option to your riding. It’s something I never thought about before, building a jump into pow when you want, how you want, and however many times you want without any time crunch. I have had way too much fun getting the place setup during a storm and then waking up to blues skies on a Saturday knowing the resorts are packed.
We hear you are working on a chairlift there as well?
I went for a towrope a few years back, but with it being so rocky and hilly here getting off the ground sounded like the best idea. It was very interesting to push my knowledge in engineering to understand the way a lift works. I started it in June of 2012 and was able to take the first ride in March 2013. I have had a great deal of friends put in some hard work for this project. We did all of the road building and tower lifting with an old $2,500 backhoe and some ropes attached to trees. This coming season will be the first full winter it’s put to the test. It seats one person and is inspired by one of my first chairlift rides in Japan along with engineering reasons.
What has been the greatest reward?
It has been the best experience of my life building Area-241. To be able to experience the things I use in my life the way I have has given me something priceless. I feel like it’s something a little closer to the truth of existence. It hasn’t been easy, but just because something is hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.