Making a Quinzee (snow shelter) by Jack Hendry
Earlier this year myself Jack Hendry and a fellow instructor from Serious Outdoor Skills Dan Dooney went out to Sweden to test our Bushcraft skills in the frozen forests of the north. We had 7 days to cram in as much as we could and one of the top priorities was to make and use a shovel up snow shelter. These shelters are sometimes called a quinzee
Snow shelters have been used as an emergency winter shelter for many years by outdoor enthusiasts, mountaineers and more traditionally by native people of northern Canada and Alaska. This is where the word Quinzee , (kwinzi) originates from.
Quinzees are generally made in areas where snow is soft and the ground is reasonably flat, the snow is shovelled into a pile to construct the shelter compared to the igloo shelter which is made by cutting hard snow blocks and using them as a construction material.
Here’s what we did .First of all we scouted around our local area looking for a suitable site to position our shelter. We chose a spot that was flat, had a lot of snow on the ground and also had a bit of protection from the tree line. We also thought about wind direction because if the wind speed did pick up we didn’t want it blowing directly into our shelters entrance.
We began shovelling if you were not carrying a snow shovel then you could improvise with a sturdy snow shoe. We shovelled all the snow into a pile and continuously walked on the growing mound to compact the snow.
Compacting the snow is essential to make the shelter solid enough to dig out and prevent collapsing. When the pile of snow reached approximately 6ft we left it to harden up or sinter. This period of time allows the mass of snow to settle, this is vital as the last thing you want is this to collapse on you when you are inside.
The next step was to mark our entrance ready to start the hollowing process. All of this work is physical and it is very important that you regulate your body heat by adding and removing layers constantly when required, having sweaty base layers in this environment is a recipe for disaster it wouldn’t take long for hypothermia to set in with temperatures well below -20oc. Another must is to keep drinking. Dehydration in these conditions will come on fast when working hard; we had a continual system and process of melting snow for water
With the door marked we began to hollow the snow pile, we used sharpened sticks pushed into the wall of the shelter as a guide these sticks were all cut approximately 10 inches long, these acted as a depth gauge so we didn’t carve to much out from the inside meaning the shelter walls should remain an even thickness and strength
We took shifts on this and ensured when one person was inside hollowing out the second person was outside resting, rehydrating and on alert in case of a collapse
Once enough snow was cleared from the inside it was time to add the finishing touches, the inside of the shelter now needed smoothing off this is best done with your hand, this process helps prevent any drips of water falling on to you in the night. A small hole is placed in to the top of the dome as a breather hole if this is not done and the entrance is sealed tightly whilst sleeping in there then there is a chance of asphyxiation
The Finished Quinzee worked really well its a tried and tested Survival snow shelter. We blocked the door and settled in for the night we had an inside temperature of -3 degrees centigrade which was good compared to the chilly -20 degrees centigrade and below outside.