High in the mountains of Northern California, the site for this custom home sees about 9 feet of snowfall in an average year, turning typical Alpine pitched roofs into dangerous avalanche threats. To complicate matters, the home is built in a ski community, and the owners are away much of the time.
“We needed to make this house bulletproof to weather conditions,” says John Maniscalco, principal at John Maniscalco Architecture.
To that end, the architects took cues from old avalanche sheds, built to shield railroad tracks from falling snow. In adapting the idea for a contemporary home, a concept emerged: a bent planar roof that tips to the home’s rear, channeling snow loads away from pedestrian areas.
To avoid burying the lower level’s back end, the cantilevered roof was built to withstand 30 feet of pileup, while shedding smaller amounts as necessary.
“This past winter saw a particularly large amount of snow,” Maniscalco says. “We got a picture from the client in the spring of the house with 15 feet of snow on top of it.”
That kind of buildup created additional considerations for the rest of the home as well. “Most of the houses [in the area] have a ground floor that is buried all winter,” he says, leaving their bottom levels dark and dank, resulting in mold as well as damage to windows and doors.
In response, this home rises to nature’s challenge with an 8-foot concrete plinth that allows the home to sit comfortably above the snowpack and relieves the owners of having to constantly shovel out their front door.
But rather than attempting to fight nature, Maniscalco’s aim was to extend the outdoor experience inside in a way that would reframe it. “You could be standing outside among the trees all day, but it’s very different to see a forest of trees in nature and then to see a tree framed in a 2-foot-by-10-foot window,” he says.
As a result, the home’s cedar-clad lower block is outfitted with exaggerated geometric cut-outs that frame vertical tree views contrasted by horizontal snowdrifts. The upper level then opens up to expansive views of the surrounding forest.
Inside, the architects needed to reconcile two demands that seemed diametrically opposed: the clients’ preference for modern aesthetics, and their desire for a lodge-like space, befitting a ski home. In an elegant solution, the home strikes the perfect balance of clean, simple spaces framed by substantial materials—such as exposed Douglas fir ceilings, walnut floors, steel, and concrete—that give the home the ambiance of a mountain lodge.