Last week my son and I built a snow cave, more precisely a snow hut or quinzee, in a massive snowbank near our apartment building.
Then, we spent the night in it!
We had been waiting for a low temperature of at least ten degrees, and Tuesday was the mildest forecast we could find – it never went below fifteen, with most of the night in the twenties. A neighbor had started the entrance to the cave and we finished the excavating in about an hour, with dimensions just large enough to hold our air mattress.
- A lot of snow – In our case, a parking lot, plowed by a backhoe. The snowbank was at least eight feet tall and maybe twenty wide.
- Shovels – We used a regular old digging shovel to break the snow free, and a small flat snow shovel to scoop it out.
- Air mattress – You’d think it would be colder than a regular sleeping pad, but the air makes for nice insulation.
- Sleeping bags – My son was in a Kelty Mistral zero degree adult bag, with synthetic fill. To keep him from squirming out (a problem on our last campout) I cinched the drawstrings around his neck and head. And to keep his toes warm I folded the bottom half up as an extra layer and tied it in place (empty sleeping bag space is cold space). I was in a Lafuma Warm n Light twenty degree down bag.
We both slept like babies, toasty warm from 10:30 PM to 5:30 AM. However, the mattress had deflated slowly through the night, and I woke up feeling more like Benjamin Button. It was a great time – definitely worth the trouble, especially for my son. Every night since he has asked if we can go “camping.”
- If it’s your first attempt with a kid, plan the campout close to home so you can abort in an emergency.
- Use a snowbank or drift if possible, otherwise budget at least three hours for completion.
- Building a quinzee from scratch you’ll want at least a six foot mound – one to two hours of shoveling. Aim for wall and ceiling thickness of at least a foot.
- Any ice crystal precipitation will do. All the shoveling, mixing, and tossing will get even the most powdery snow to harden, or sinter, once it’s piled.
- Start the entrance downwind, and keep it as small as possible.
Next time we’re trying an igloo.