First of all, what is a Quinzee? A Quinzee is a shelter made entirely out of snow. Much like an igloo, they are durable, hold a constant temperature inside (cold), and are a lot of fun to sleep in!
Making a quinzee takes the good part of a day, and involves a lot of hard labour. Expect a good workout, and a lot of wet clothing by the time you are done. It is advised that if you plan on sleeping inside, that you bring a change of clothes with you.
Quinzees can be made in all different sizes, from a single-person dwelling to a behemoth that can sleep 10 people. But be advised, the amount of time and effort it takes to make a quinzee is not proportionate to its size. Since snow is limited, larger quinzees mean further distances must be travelled to collect snow, and this can take a lot longer.
Here’s how it’s done:
1 – Gather as much snow as possible into a giant pile. The snow does not have to be packing snow. Powder snow or any other type will do. The pile should be big. At least 6 feet high, and 10 feet in diameter. I suggest using shovels to pile the snow on, and sleds or tarps to carry snow from the surrounding area to the pile. A quinzee takes a lot of snow, and the snow in the area around the pile will quickly get used up. It’s not practical walking up to 50 meters to get a single shovel full of snow.
2 – Compact the snow by stomping it down. If you have snowshoes, this is a great time to use them. It may feel like you’re just moving snow from the top down the sides, but the extra weight of your body helps to compact the snow inside.
3 – Add more snow to the pile. Repeat steps 1 and 2 several times.
4 – Once the pile is big enough (after stomping it down several times), leave it alone for a few hours. This will allow it to further compact and stick together, making it possible to hollow out.
5 – While you are waiting, gather several dozen straight sticks, no thicker than a finger, and cut them to about 15 inches in length.
6 – Take the sticks and insert them into the pile, facing towards the center of the heap. Space them out by about a foot in each direction. The end result should look like a porcupine.
7 – Wait even longer. Another hour or so.
8 – Start digging!! Using a bowl or similar instrument, start carving a hole into the bottom of the quinzee. It should be big enough for you to crawl into, but no bigger. You do not want a large hole exposing you to the elements. If the ceiling and walls immediately begin to crumble when you start digging, it means the snow has not compacted and solidified enough. Either it should have been packed down more during the building phase, or it needs more time to settle.
9 – Once you’ve made a few feet of headway, start angling your dig upward at about a 30-degree angle, for a couple of feet. The idea is to start your sleeping platform a foot or two above the entrance. Hot air rises, and by creating your sleeping area up top, the cool air from outside will be prevented from coming in. This keeps the quinzee at a constant near-freezing temperature, even when it’s 20 below outside.
10 – Start hollowing out the sleeping platform (also known as the main living room). The snow that you carve away should be hauled out regularly to avoid blocking you in. This snow can be used to create an elongated entrance, which helps to keep the wind out. Curving this entrance enhances the effect.
11 – Remember the porcupine sticks? When you’re digging from the inside there is no way of knowing how thick the walls are. The sticks are used as guides to keep you from thinning the walls too much. When you see the end of the stick, stop digging. If your sticks were 12 inches in length, your walls should be this thick as well.
12 – Once you’ve finished hollowing out the inside, remove the sticks, and begin with the interior decorating. This will most likely include a tarp, some air mattresses, and some VERY warm sleeping bags.
If everything goes as planned, your quinzee will keep an interior temperature hovering around 0 degrees. Not warm, but often far warmer than what is outside. Enjoy!