So Worth It: Zack Giffin Believes Skiers Are The Original Tiny House Folks

In the spring of 2014, I was hired to build what are called “tiny houses” on the television show “Tiny House Nation.” To be on the show, I basically had to sign over most of my time and agree to be available for filming at any moment—but it was a big opportunity. So I added one non-negotiable demand in my contract: to have the first two weeks in April free to ski in Alaska. So for the past four years, April has been my one consistent window for planning something epic. Alaska is always a roll of the dice, and the past two snow years have been particularly hard in there. But I still manage to come back with some unforgettable memories of huge runs with incredible snow, and it makes all the effort So Worth It! Even with a great snow year in the Northwest, when I close my eyes, it’s the one epic run in Haines, off the summit of Tomahawk that fills my mind. I think most skiers understand that feeling—the idea of placing such high value on the memory of a single truly amazing run. That’s why I think many of the other tenants of “tiny house living” are nothing new to skiers, either.

Here are some other tiny house concepts that have long been cornerstones of the skiers experience:

Home is where you park it

Parking yourself somewhere amazing is Ski Bum 101! Every skier understands that the early bird gets first tracks, and the name of the game is positioning. Sometimes being first chair requires sleeping in a parking lot. Mobile living offers a skier many advantages, from storm chasing to après entertainment space—plus you never know when they will close down the highway, and then who’s laughing?

Multi-functionality is the key to good design

Just like a well designed small space, skiers have to maximize every square inch of their ski days. Multipurpose solutions can be a highly efficient way to address all the demands on your time. Skiing great snow while connecting with good friends is the ultimate two-for-one combo—especially when friends also bring extra water or lunch, becoming multi functional resources. Taking an afternoon run with an old friend may just turn into getting a driver for a shuttle run. Riding a lift could very easily turn into extracting insider knowledge to pow stashes. The basic lesson here is you always need to look for how you can hit two birds with one snowball.

Quality over quantity

Skiers usually prefer quality and quantity. However, usually it’s our 10 best days that create the epic memories that last all summer. That’s why we set goals. That’s why people fly to Japan and I spend my spring times in Alaska. We’re always looking for that one perfect run.

Everything you need and nothing you don’t

“Light and fast” is a proven method in powder skiing and mountaineering, but this concept also applies to group dynamics. When attempting large objectives, skiers make sure everyone is there for the same reason and everyone has important functions for the safe attempt of the objective. Everyone knows that appropriately sized groups can lead to better communication and smarter route finding in the backcountry, which leads to safer and more satisfying trips.

Use vertical space

I think it’s safe to say we all agree that the more vertical, the better. Considering vertical space and adjusting elevation is the only effective strategy for finding good snow. Plus vertical spaces are where avalanches come from—so even if we’re not using those spaces, we’re usually paying attention to them.

Bigger’s not always better

Just like a construction project that’s gone over budget, overshooting a landing can ruin your day. Just ask any terrain park skier and they’ll tell you the importance of having your speed dialed. It’s no different when skiing big mountains. The perfect amount of send will have you up to the top and back for dinner. It’s called “sending within your means,” and it’s the only way many ski bums survive life without health insurance.

Use the natural light

Skiing is even better when you can see what you’re doing. Skiing in amazing orange sunset light is maybe the easiest way to turn an average run into a cherished memory. Dawn patrol can be rough, but the very best days in the mountains always start before the sun is up—and if you don’t have much time, there’s no better way to capitalize on a moment.

Clutter is the enemy

Ditching the crowd is usually a big part of skiers’ agenda, and solitude is part of what makes backcountry skiing such an attractive activity. The endless search for fresh tracks is a permanent motivator to break free of the rat race, and the constant need for partners ensures our ability to share the remarkable perfection of these journeys with others. The views, sounds and the indescribable joys of being in places where few travel are a side effect of engaging in the sport we love. Is the snow perfect? Who cares, when you’re away from the crowds in a glorious frozen landscape, sharing it with your friends?

Time is your most precious resource

If you’re into deep powder, the impermanence of snow conditions magnifies the urgency of your engagement. It’s why we always take another lap. It’s why the snow will never be better than now. It’s why it’s not what you skied but how you skied it. It’s about reflecting on the sacrifices you made to be there, enjoying the pristine brilliance of winter and the pure joy of this moment.