So here in the Boston area we got 2-3 feet of snow this week. There’s so much snow on the ground that I’m measuring it by how far the kids sink into it when they go play outside. At Camp Sayre the snow is fantastic news for those of us who have been waiting all season to show off the winter program. Snurfing, sledding, ice climbing, it’s all open and to kick the weekend off we’re out building Quinzee snow shelters tomorrow.
A quinzee (say it kwin-zee) is kind of like an igloo made of snow instead of ice. You start by stomping out your spot. Use your boots to stomp out a circle big enough around to hold a couple of people. Then you start shovelling up a big pile of snow in the circle. And I mean BIG, think taller than an adult. As you pile it on shape it sort of like a dome. Once you have your dome-pile you…….do nothing! You have to let it set for a couple of hours to firm together or it will fall apart when you start to hollow it out. Personally, I think of this as blackmailing time. You know, “Ok kids lets go clean our rooms while we wait for the snow to set. We’ll come back out as soon as we’re done.” (insert innocent cheery smile here)
Ok! So a couple of hours have gone by, the rooms are clean, and the snow is all set. Time to….get a bunch of sticks! You don’t want to accidentally create a tunnel instead of a snow fort so you need to have a way to measure out the thickness of the quinzee walls. Get a bundle of sticks all around the same size. Think the distance between a grown up’s fingertips and elbow. Then stick them all around your dome-pile of snow at regular intervals with just a few inches of stick poking out of the top. It should look like a giant stumpy mutant snow porcupine. NOW it’s time to hollow out the quinzee! A word of caution though, never do this alone. It’s not normal but sometimes the snow can collapse in on you during construction and you’ll want a friend nearby to help you dig out if that happens.
Start with an entry tunnel. If you’re super cool you can actually dig this part a little lower down and the tunnel up into the main dome part but if it all comes level that’s OK too. Then start hollowing it out from the top down. As you’re hollowing out the snow dome start to be careful when you can see some daylight through the snow and keep an eye out for those porcupine sticks, they’re your signal not to hollow out any more, your wall is thin enough. This part is going to take a while, a couple of hours or so.
Once you’re hollowed out enough use the last of the inside snow to make a snow bed or two for you to put your sleeping bag on (this is totally optional and if you are not the Martha Stewart of snow fort builders the sleeping bag can go on the ground or a pile of snow just fine). Keep the bed to the side and pack it down hard. Next carefully make a few holes in the quinzee for fresh air. Removing the porcupine sticks and carefully making one or two bigger is a handy way to do this. One right at the top is great and sometimes people do another one or two further down on the side. Then shovel a path all the way down to the ground leading to the opening, this will funnel cold air from your air holes out of the quinzee and away from you. With the insulation from the snow walls your trench for cold air the quinzee can maintain around 30 degrees even on nights that are much colder. If you’re feeling fancy you can even carve out a shelf or so to put your lantern and snacks on.
Now you have a great backyard fort for playing and overnight camping. If the weather stays cold it can last for the whole winter until the snow melts. Have fun and stay warm!