Winter is a time for sliding on ski’s, sleds, snowmobiles, and hiking on snow shoes. But did you know that winter is also a time to hang out inside too? Inside a snow hut that is! All you need is a shovel and twigs and you’ll be on your way to building a fun snow shelter called a quinzee. A quinzee (pronounced: kwinzi) is a shelter made by hollowing out a pile of settled snow. The word is of Athabaskan origin. These are different than an igloo, which is made from blocks of snow. Quinzee’s are fun and easy to make.
How to Build a Quinzee
- Mark your territory. Make a circle in the snow about 8 feet in diameter.
- Shovel snow into a pile, in the circle until about 4-6’ high, the shape and size of an igloo (don’t pack the snow). Wait an hour or so for your snow ‘pile’ to settle. The settling process is called “sintering.” This is a process where snow crystals adhere to one another and bond into a packed structure. Helpful hint: digging out is a bit easier if you burry a pile of pine bows (though don’t go ‘trimming’ a bunch of pine tree’s!) or backpacks that can be dug out later, reducing the amount of snow to be dug out.
- Gather sticks approximately 12″ in length and push them all over into the quinzee structure. These will help guide the wall thickness as you excavate.
- Time to start digging! Dig an entrance at ground level and slant upwards as you dig toward the center of the quinzee, to create a raised sleeping platform. This allows the cold air to flow down and out of your shelter.
- Dig out the inside walls until you see the ends of your guide sticks, which means your walls should be 12″ thick. Be patient and careful as you dig. Start with one person excavating the inside while others outside move the snow away from the entrance. You will get pretty snow-covered and/or wet when building the quinzee so make sure you have dry clothing to change into later.
- Try to keep your structure rounded (inside and out). A flat roof will sag and be prone to collapse.
- You can use the excavated snow to create a windbreak along the outer entrance or build a bench inside for sitting or cooking upon.
- Smooth the ceiling as much as possible to prevent dripping.
- Carefully punch 3-4 ventilation holes around just below the center of the quinzee, using a stick or broom handle. Check and clear the ventilation holes as needed.
Temperatures inside a snow shelter can be 32 degrees or warmer even when the outside temperature is much, much colder. They make for a fun sleepover, hangout hut, outdoor game room or pic-nic place (with hot chocolate!). Cover the bottom of the quinzee with a tarp and lots of insulation using camp pads or thick blankets. Pile in the sleeping bags, friends and family, wear a warm hat and snuggle in for the night.
Some things to remember: Use a thermometer to compare the inside and outside temperatures, you may be surprised how warm it can get inside! Never climb on the top of the quinzee, especially when someone is inside. If the walls start to get thin (especially on the south facing side), it’s time to chop it down and make a new one.
This article was originally published in Kidsville Magazine’s GET OUT! column (January 2010).