When Nicolas Sauve was a child, his parents would take him and his sister to a rented cabin by Lac-Saint-Joseph near Quebec City, where he learned to windsurf and practised soccer, taking free kicks against the cabin’s cement wall. Eventually, his passion for outdoor sports became a career. He criss-crossed the globe as a professional snowboarder for 12 years, clinching two medals at the 2011 Winter X Games. Now he works as the general manager at Sentiers du Moulin, an outdoors centre in Lac-Beauport, developing a recreational trail network in the Quebec hinterlands with enough snappy turns and steep inclines to attract mountain bikers from across the country.
In 2018, he got word that a private developer who owned more than 900 acres of property on nearby Mont Tourbillon wanted to subdivide his land into 80 parcels. The developer offered Sauve the opportunity to purchase his pick of the lots for $60,000. (Similar lots now sell for close to $350,000.) Sauve chose a 10-acre forested property close to the top of the mountain, surrounded by trees and a series of cliffs that look like a giant staircase. But first, the town of Lac-Beauport had to approve the deal. In the end, it was agreed that each owner would open up part of their land to public recreational use.
The lot is a five-minute drive from the four-bedroom home Sauve shares with his wife, Geneviève Gaumond, an ER doctor, and their two daughters, aged three and four. The family enlisted the help of a contractor friend to help them build their dream chalet, where they could return from mountain biking or snowshoeing and warm up under sunset skies while overlooking endless vistas of boreal forest. Land-use regulations usually prohibit residential builds in the area, but Sauve’s family got an exemption when they agreed to allow recreational use on their property. The catch: their chalet’s footprint had to be no bigger than 24 square metres, which is roughly equivalent to three mid-size cars side by side.
Inspired by their mutual love of Québécois architect Pierre Thibault, Sauve and Gaumond envisioned a tiny two-floor retreat that used only three materials—bleached wood, grey aluminum and white tile—to minimize visual noise. The build cost roughly $400,000. “We wanted the design, textures and colours of the chalet to be linear, sober and clean, so the house kind of fades away and lets you connect with the surrounding nature,” says Sauve.
The family also had to figure out how to make the chalet feel bigger than it was. There are some much-needed space-saving hacks: the stove is only 60 centimetres wide, and the main floor connects to the upper by a small steel ladder instead of a staircase. With their indoor layout so limited, they took advantage of the outdoor space with a 30-metre patio and large glass windows. In the winter, the doors stay closed and the family enjoy a panoramic view of the snow-capped forest by the outdoor wood-burning stove. Come summer, the doors open back up, and they grill moose steaks on the barbecue.
Every time Sauve walks around the property, his mind quiets down. “You can look outside and not see a living soul for hundreds of kilometres,” he says. They get their drinking water from a well, drilled 91 metres into the earth, which yields crystalline water that tastes remarkably crisp. The unit, which rents for $400 per night on Airbnb, is now so popular that if Sauve and his family want to spend the weekend there, they need to block off the dates months in advance. (If snowfall leads to difficult road conditions in the winter, they’ll head up the mountain on a snowmobile instead of a car.)
They’ve received a number of offers for the property, but Sauve has no intention of selling. He sees himself living there full time once his children are grown. “I can see my family paring things down to the more essential stuff.”
This article appears in print in the March 2023 issue of Maclean’s magazine. Buy the issue for $9.99 or better yet, subscribe to the monthly print magazine for just $29.99.