How to Build a Backyard Quinzhee

A what? A quinzhee.

Life is Good in a Quinzhee, Photo © Liesl Clark

Life is Good in a Quinzhee, Photo © Liesl Clark

Quinzhee is an Athabaskan word for snow shelter and when there’s enough snow about, our resident mountaineer can’t help but make one with the kids. Mountaineers learn how to build them as an emergency refuge from the ravages of winter storms in the mountains. It’s more fun when you have one just 5 feet from your back door.

How do you build a quinzhee? It’s easy. And you don’t need a lot of snow on the ground to pull it off. We built this one with only about 8 inches of snow on the ground.

First make a huge pile of the white stuff, packing it with shovels and skis if you have them, without walking on the pile. Get it as tall as you can and make it cone-shaped, adding a good volume of snow to the back end. Really pack it down. Let it sit as long as you can, to settle the snow and let the snow crystals sinter. Sinter? Yes, sinter. Sintering is bonding of the snow crystals and this happens when snow crystals come in contact with each other. Packing it really helps.

We let ours sit over night. But you might not be so lucky. In the event you are stuck out in a storm in your backyard because you forgot your house key, you can let it sit for an hour.

It Might Look Like a Pile of Snow. But In No Time It'll Be Home.

It Might Look Like a Pile of Snow. But In No Time It’ll Be Home.

Next, you’ll want to cut a small entrance close to the ground. You’re essentially cutting a flat slab-like face on the surface of the quinzhee. Then, you can start digging into it.

Digging Out the Tunnel, Photo © Liesl Clark

Digging Out the Tunnel, Photo © Liesl Clark

Dig a small tunnel to start, only large enough to allow your body to slither in. Dig in about a body-length. Then you can start to enlarge the room.

Excavating Snow From the Quinzhee, Photo © Liesl Clark

Excavating Snow From the Quinzhee, Photo © Liesl Clark

Dig an oval-shaped room, complete with sleeping platforms on either side of the tunnel and inside the void. You want to elevate the sleeping platforms off the ground if you have enough space because the cold sinks to the bottom and the small entrance-way will keep the heat from escaping out the entrance because your entrance is low to the ground. But if you just want it to be a fun playspace, forget about the sleeping platforms. Who’s going to camp in this thing unless they absolutely have to?

Quinzhees are actually warm at night.

Quinzhees are actually warm at night.

When the snow falls, isn’t it fascinating how we come to use it for our pleasure and benefit? Some of us like to slide on it, others strap skis on to travel over it, my husband and I like to think about how the snow can be turned into a resource for our family. This quinzhee has been a true hit.

Inside the Quinzhee, Photo © Liesl Clark

Inside the Cozy Quinzhee, Photo © Liesl Clark

Next time the snow falls, don’t just shovel the snow off your sidewalk or driveway randomly. Throw it into a big pile and you’ll have a fodder for a quinzhee in no time for the whole neighborhood to enjoy.

2 thoughts on “How to Build a Backyard Quinzhee

    • Thanks, Michelle! Here’s hoping you and yours give it a try in your next adventure to the great white wilds. We love the times we’ve spent in homemade quinzhees with the kids. It’s a great skill for them to learn, too. Happy New Year!

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