Backcountry Haven

Backcountry Haven

By Alpine Modern / Published by Alpine Modern
Professional backcountry snowboarders Zach and Cindi Lou Grant modernize a run-down A-frame cabin outside of Park City, Utah, to help them access untracked powder and follow their dreams.

Written by Bridgette Meinhold

They spent as much time as possible up in the Wasatch Mountains east of Salt Lake City, Utah, and only came down for school, work, and sleep. Zach and Cindi Lou live for snowboarding, so it was only natural for them to buy their own alpine cabin to be as close as possible to their favorite backcountry terrain near Park City. Surrounded by snow six months of the year, their newly renovated cabin lets the pair follow their dreams and snowboard much of the year.

Zach and Cindi Lou Grant‒extreme athletes, high-school sweethearts, and DIY cabin builders

Backcountry education

After high school, Zach and Cindi Lou rented a small A-frame cabin in Big Cottonwood Canyon to be in the mountains. For the last decade, the couple has been honing their skills, taking avalanche safety courses, and learning all there is to know about backcountry snowboarding. They use special snowboards, called splitboards, which separate into two boards to allow for uphill travel. When they get to the top, they put the two halves together, spin the bindings to make it like a normal board, then click in to ride down. Safety is their number-one priority, though, and they work together as a team to ensure that at the end of the day they both get home in one piece.

One of the Grants’ splitboard 

Over the years, the partners have gone on great adventures in Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, and Alaska. They have been featured in ski and snowboard magazines and movies, like Powderwhore Productions’ Some Thing Else. Their years of touring in the backcountry together only improved their relationship, and in 2011, the two got married. Soon, sponsors including Voilé, Smith Optics, and Gregory Mountain Products picked up the pair as team riders, turning their dreams of becoming professional backcountry splitboarders into a reality.

After a two-year search, the couple finally found the perfect place for their permanent base camp amid backcountry terrain on the Wasatch Back in the Rocky Mountains of Utah

Finding heaven in the backcountry

All the while the two knew they wanted a cabin of their very own from which to base their adventures. After searching for a couple of years, they found a run-down A-frame on the Wasatch Back in the Rocky Mountains of Utah that was within their budget. It was a fixer-upper, with the cabin barely standing, but on the plus side, it had great backcountry terrain close by and was just minutes outside of Park City. 

 Technically, the cabin is located in Midway, but it’s closer to Park City. With all the snow in that area, they need a snowmobile to get back and forth during the winter. "It feels like you’re away from everything, but you’re really close to town," says Zach. "The quality of living back here is top-notch. It’s so quiet and peaceful, and it’s really cool to be able to ski in and ski out." Situated in a small valley, the cabin has a small seasonal stream running alongside it, enjoys full sun throughout the day, and also has great views of the mountains, aspen groves, and lots of wildlife nearby.

Zach and Cindi Lou Grant

Building dreams

Unfortunately, what they thought would be a simple matter of some new insulation, plumbing, and sheetrock turned into a much bigger project. "It was like pulling a string on a sweater," explains Cindi Lou. "Once we started, the whole thing just began to unravel." After seeing holes in the roof and all the shoddy construction, they realized they would basically have to tear down almost everything. 

 Over the course of two years, with a lot of help from family and friends, the couple reconstructed and renovated their cabin, turning it into an open, 1,800-square-foot home. The previous owners had jacked up the original A-frame onto a taller foundation, added storage rooms underneath, and tacked on an addition to the north. Zach and Cindi Lou left the ground floor and the addition, but made them more structurally sound and weatherproof. 

 They tore down the A-frame structure and built a new space with straight walls and a south-sloping roof that mirrors the roof on the north addition. This transformation turned the home into a modern cabin and allowed for straight walls and more space inside while keeping the same footprint. The old roofing material was reused as the exterior cladding, giving it a rustic yet industrial look reminiscent of the old silver mines nearby. 

 Spray foam insulation helps create a tight, high-performance exterior to keep the home warmer. New energy-efficient windows bring in plentiful natural light so they don’t need to turn on lights during the day. "All the windows are definitely my favorite thing," says Cindi Lou. "I love to look at the stars from my bed at night."

"I love to look at the stars from my bed at night."

Inside, the first floor has a large open-floor-plan kitchen and dining room, with the living room inside the original north section. Lofted above the bathroom, their bedroom’s tongue-and-groove wood paneling on walls and ceiling offers a warm and bright interior. Family heirlooms and vintage furniture fill the space, while giant black-and-white pictures of Zach and Cindi Lou snowboarding—a housewarming gift from Voilé— adorn their walls.

 On the ground floor, an extra living space snugly surrounds a large woodstove that heats the entire home in the winter. Also downstairs are the laundry room and the couple’s gear-filled room of snowboards, boots, outerwear, camping gear, and biking, climbing, and shing gear for their summertime sports.

Living the dream

As it goes with most DIY homes, Zach and Cindi Lou’s cabin isn’t complete yet. It takes time to remodel a house, especially when you’re as dedicated to your passions as this couple is. Not to mention, they both have normal jobs in Park City that keep them busy. In the winter, Zach works as a snowcat operator at a local resort grooming ski runs, and in the summer, he switches to trail maintenance. Cindi Lou teaches yoga at Park City Yoga Adventures and buys gear for the local White Pine Touring shop.

In winter, they focus on splitboarding and being in the backcountry as many days as they can. In summer, they buckle down to work on their house, trying to complete whatever projects they can before the snow falls again. This next year, they plan to tile the kitchen and focus on finishing the downstairs, tricking out the gear room, and adding a second bathroom for guests. Eventually, they hope to add a photovoltaic system to take advantage of their great southern aspect. 

 The two have put a lot of hard work into their home, but say it’s all been worth it, plus a great learning experience. "It’s really rewarding now that it’s our own," Zach says. "But I was surprised at what we were capable of." Despite some real challenges, like building the water system or installing the roof rafters with a makeshift pulley system, the two got it done together and built their own backcountry heaven. Because working as a team, whether in the backcountry while snowboarding or renovating their cabin, is what the Grants do best. △

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