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How to Build a Snow Shelter for Recreation

December 12th, 2013 Seasonal

The first snowfall means shoveling sidewalks, clearing off your cars and navigating slippery roads, but snow doesn't have to be all bad. Whether you pass the time by throwing snowballs or building snow people, this weather can be loads of fun for the family.

To help you get in on the fun, here are some tips on building a snow shelter.

Snow cave and igloo
According to SAR Technology, a provider of search and rescue software for emergency personnel, you can probably build a snow cave in any location where the snow is sufficiently deep. If the snow is too soft to properly pack, you may want to avoid a cave and go for an igloo instead. The source suggests using a knife to cut bricks out of the snow. You can then lay these in a circle and slowly place more on top, moving inward until your igloo is completed. The final brick is usually the hardest, as it will need to be cut with a base that is thinner than it's top so it doesn't fall through. Some traditional igloos feature a brick of pure ice on top, allowing light to filter in during the day.

Quinzee
The easiest igloo is called a quinzee, and it follows the same basic principles of its more popular partner. To make a quinzee, The Washington Trails Association recommends using a shovel to create a large pile of snow (the size of your prospective hut). Pack it down and ensure there aren't any holes. Next, place sticks of equal length into the shelter at the depth you'd like your walls to be. Place one stick at the top, going straight through, as deep as possible. Now, as you hollow out your hut, you will be able to tell when you've dug too far for your walls to support, and you also have a marker for the center - in case you get lost.

With the sticks in place, you're ready to dig out your front door. Crouch at the base of the structure and dig inwards until you hit the center stick. Then remove it and dig around it until you've hit the tips of the other sticks. The Washington Trails Association writes that it may be a good idea to spend several hours on this step, using pots, knives or boots to scrape out the inside until you can be sure that it is structurally solid. Those going into rough climates without tent gear should seek training in shelter building from a professional before venturing on their journey.

Snow castles, hotels and more
For a basic snow castle, the National Building Museum that all that's required is a wall. Using pre-cut snow bricks, you could create a formidable defense. You may also choose a layer in the wall to leave small gaps. If not using bricks, simply shovel snow into a line, pack it down, and repeat the process until the wall is of an acceptable thickness.

Though not quite a fort, an equally fun, simple alternative to snow shelters is a snow perch. A snow perch can be found in parking lots where plows have created large, stable piles of snow, or in any yard through which a path has been shoveled. A perch will not protect you from attackers or the elements unless you dig a trench, but it will give you a height advantage over your opponent in a snowball fight.

When building snow structures, whether at home or in the wild, you should always have a partner who can pull you out in case of emergency.