Getting ready for the winter season, Gear Patrol consulted NOLS instructor Marco Johnson on how to build snow shelters. A senior instructor, Marco has plenty of experience teaching students how to construct snow caves and quinzee huts on NOLS winter courses.
“Spending the night freezing (literally) is no one’s idea of a good time, so enter the backcountry prepared and well informed…
Scout a location. With any snow shelter, scouting a location is crucial. For a snow cave, your location will be determined by where snow depth and snow consistency is best. ‘You want to find a fairly big drift of snow — a place where the wind has piled up the snow,’ says Johnson. Ideal snow conditions for building a snow cave are the same those for building a snowman. Snow that compresses and packs easily will yield a stronger structure and will be easier to build.
Hollow out a sleeping area. The next step is to dig. When you are hollowing out the snow bank, shape the inside of the structure like an upright bell. Johnson says that’s important because ‘the bell shape is very strong structurally and it prevents the roof from sagging due to your body heat.’
Dig up. When you are hollowing out the inside and building the bell shape, you want to start as low as you can and work up. This will allow you to make a sleeping platform inside the structure that sits higher in elevation than your entrance. Johnson stresses that this is key to keeping warm. ‘It creates a heat trap. So all the cold air moves out and all the warm air stays in. It is very much like the way that beavers build their lodges.’”
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