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Building a Snowcave

By Murray Selleck - December 18th, 2002

Brutal cold. Unrelenting wind. Heavy snow. Things are the things that make winters and skiing great. These are also the very same things that can kill you if have to spend an unplanned night out in the winter backcountry. This is where snowcraft pays off. These valuable skills make it easy to plan for, to travel through, and enjoy the best and the worst of what winter has to offer.

One of the most important skills is knowing how to build a snowcave. Inside a snowcave the wind could be howling at your door, begging to get in, and you wouldn't know it. During the day snowcaves are bright from outside light. At night, with a single candle, a snowcave will become a glowing fortress and dare I say it... even cozy.

My favorite snow structure is a
Quin-zhee hut. These can be made with very little available snow, and I've seen virtual mansions created in the heart of winter. Basically, you create a mound of snow, let it set up or gain strength, and dig in to it from below and hollow it out. Here are the steps:

  • Trample out a circle in the snow and all the snow within that circle. This will be the size of your Quin-Zhee hut.
  • Use your shovels to throw snow from the outside of your circle into the middle and create a mound. Throw as much snow into the center as you want your snow shelter to be big.
  • Whack at the mound with skis, shovels, or ski poles, as it becomes bigger. The more you disturb the snow the stronger it will set up.
  • Once you are satisfied with the pile of snow you have created let it set up.
  • To begin hollowing out your snowcave dig down and then in. As you form a tunnel entrance to your shelter, make sure someone on the outside to help shovel away the snow as it comes out. (Also it's safer should something goes wrong and your structure falls in on you!)
  • Scoop out the ceiling. Use arcing strokes to create a dome shape inside. This will keep your snow structure strong. As you arch out the roof watch for sunlight coming through the walls. The more you shave snow away from the walls more light will come in. This is your key to know when to stop shoveling.
  • Have a set of dry clothes to put on once you are done.

Quin-Zhee huts are a bit more labor intensive to build than just finding a big snowdrift and digging into it. But, if you know how to build a Quin-Zhee you also know how to build a snowcave. Either structure can save your life, or is a great place to spend a winter afternoon just for the fun of it.


Knowing when to stop carving your roof

A good way make sure you don't carve to much out of the top of your snow cave, is to use equal length sticks. Take several sticks of equal length, say six inches. Stab them into your snow mound in different areas, just enough so that you can only see the top of the stick. then as your carving out the inside you'll know that when you see a stick in your roof or side wall to stop carving.

This will help with preventing cave-ins, and make your snow cave as large as possible.

Posted on January 12, 2011 - 5:40am
by Visitor

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