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34 » Backcountry

January + February 2010 » Washington Trails


How to Do It »

Quinzee Living

Wake up to luminescent blue snow by sleeping in a snow structure of your own creation

Diane Bedell

Quinzees are versatile structures, and not nearly as particular in their building require- ments as snow caves or igloos. You can build them in any kind of snow, not just hard pack or windblown snow and you don’t need to find the leeward side of a hill. To build a quinzee, you can simply find a sheltered spot in the woods and start piling up snow. (Okay, there are a few more steps than that, but not too many.)

Trail Programs Director diane@wta.org

Build It Up

Your first step is to determine the size of the quinzee you wish to build. First you define the diameter of your snow shelter, and then you

photo by Julie Reimer.

If a quinzee can keep you warm in the Minnesota North Woods (shown above), it’s sure to be a cozy home in Washington.

I f you spend much time in the back- country during the winter months, knowing how to build a shelter out of snow is a great survival skill to have. After all, snow is an excellent insulator and inside your snow shelter it can be a “cozy” 30 degrees, even when the temperature has plunged into the teens outside.

Pronounced KWIN’zee and of Athabascan origin, a quinzee is, in essence, a large pile of snow that has been hollowed out for a place to sleep.

disturb the snow within it. My approach is to stomp out the diameter of the quinzee while wearing my snowshoes and pack the interior down. This step helps eliminate layers in the snow and provides a strong platform on which to build your shelter.

Now, it’s time to start piling up snow. This will take some time and you can really heat up doing it, so be sure to pace yourself and use your layering well. There’s no sense having a great snow shelter to camp in if you are cold and clammy anyway after sweating all day.

Once you have piled all the snow you need, let the mound set up. You will want to wait at least ninety minutes before you start digging it out and two to three hours would be even bet- ter. Go on a hike, or fire up your backpacking stove and make a bite to eat while you wait. This wait time is critical as it allows the snow to go through a process called “sintering.” The energy released during the movement of the snow as you piled it up helps bond the snow crystals together so they have structural integ- rity. It’s this process that allows you to build a quinzee out of sugar snow that wouldn’t be fit for a snowball otherwise.

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