Introduction: Quinzhee

About: I'm a retired teacher who enjoys building and creating.

A quizhee is a snow shelter. When the temperature is close to freezing, snow is packing snow. It's easy to build a snow shelter with packing snow. As the temperature gets colder, there is less moisture in the snow and it's the moisture that acts as the glue to make snow into packing snow. You can't build a regular snow shelter at cold temperatures. It takes a very specific kind of ice/snow to make an igloo so usually your best option is to build a quinzhee. A quinzhee can be built at any temperature, as long as there is snow.

Step 1: Check the Site

Walk around the site where you plan to make your quinzhee to make sure that there are no logs or big rocks hidden underneath the snow. If you are actually going to use this quinzhee to sleep in, a log or rock in the middle of your quinzhee can make it uncomfortable.

Step 2: Mark the Outline of the Quinzhee

Use a shovel or stick to make a circle as big as you want your quinzhee. The size that you see in the picture would sleep three to four average sized adults.

Step 3: Stir Up the Snow

Stir up all the snow inside the circle, right down to the ground. There is often a crusty layer right next to the earth. Make sure you break through that layer. Make sure you stir up the snow right at the outside edge of the circle because that's where the walls will be. If you don't stir up the snow completely, your quinzhee will likely collapse.

Step 4: Making the Snow Pile

From this point on, you should not step inside the circle otherwise you will weaken the walls. Go around the outside of the circle and shovel snow into a big dome-shaped pile in the circle. Break up any solid chunks. When you have the pile as big as you want it, smooth down the outside. This pile is about 1.5 metres (four and a half feet) high.

Step 5: Push in Marking Sticks

When you are hollowing out the quinzhee, it will be hard to tell whether you are making the walls too thin. To help you, gather four to six sticks of 30 cm (one foot), 20 cm (8 inches) and 10 cm (4 inches). Push the longest sticks around the quinzhee close to the bottom. The next longest sticks get pushed in around the middle and the smallest sticks get pushed in close to the top. Be careful pushing in the top sticks as you don't want to step on the walls. When you are digging out the quinzhee and you see the end of the stick, you know that you should stop at this thickness.

Step 6: Wait!

The pile must sit. You must let is sit at least one hour. More time is better. You could even wait until the next day. Waiting is critical. As the snow sits in a pile, the pressure of the snow on itself as well as a tiny bit of residual heat that is seeping up from the earth (this is why you broke that crusty layer when you were stirring up the snow) is realigning the snow crystals so that they will hold together enough to keep the quinzhee up.

Step 7: Mark Your Door

The door should be made on the side opposite to the wind. It should be made fairly small so that it can be closed up easily when you are crawling in for the night. Mark the door entrance and then start digging away snow. As you are hollowing out, put some snow in a garbage bag. When you crawl in for the night, just pull the garbage bag into the entrance to close the door.

Step 8: Hollowing Out

For the first little while, you will be able to shovel just standing at the entrance. When you get a big enough opening inside, you can crawl in and start digging from the inside. This is where it is really good to have a second person helping you. You can push the loosened snow to the entrance and the second person can shovel it away. Otherwise, you have to make a small pile close to the entrance and then crawl out and dig it out. Dig snow from the sides and ceiling simultaneously. This is so that the ceiling is never too thick above you and so if your quinzhee collapses, you will have little snow on top of you. Remember to watch for the ends of those marker sticks so you know when you have made the walls thin enough.

Step 9: Smooth the Inside

You will be surprised how much space there is inside when you are done hollowing it out. Smooth out the walls on the inside using a plate or pizza pan or frisbee. If your shovel is short, you can use your shovel. If you are sleeping in the quinzhee, moisture will start to form on the walls as a little melting occurs. If the ceiling is uneven, water will run down uneven points and drip on you. With smooth walls, it will run down the sides. If you are sleeping in it, make a small hole in the top of the quinzhee to allow air in.

Snow is an insulator. It could be - 25 outside the quinzhee but it will be close to freezing inside and there will be no wind. Happy building.

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