Last weekend, Feb 11-12, 2023, I spent the weekend in the Grössjön nature reserve for a weekend of snow digging, exploring the reserve cross country skiing and hoping for some Aurora activity.
A quinzhee /ˈkwɪnziː/ is just like an igloo a snow shelter. It differs from an igloo mainly in its construction: First, a pile of snow about 8 ft high is built, then compacted and finally hollowed out.
Building our quinzhee
After exploring the region on our skis, we found a flat area. It was roughly 20 °F during the day - which made a good temperature for a quinzhee. For our snow pile, that will eventually become our night shelter, we broke up layers of the snow on the ground into powder. We thoroughly mixed bottom and top layers of snow to increase sintering, thus strengthening the eventual structure, with our skis and then boots.
We piled 6 to 8 feet high and 10 to 13 feet in diameter snow, shaping it into a dome. While we let the construction sinter for a couple of hours, we explored more of the region and collected sticks. We pushed the sticks into the structure to act as thickness guides before we hollowed out the interior of the mound. (Placing 12 inches long ones closer to the base level and roughly 8 inches ones at the top.)
We then smoothed out the inside, and dug a narrow trench inside around the bottom, allowing cold air to flow down and out of the shelter. We then poked small air circulation / ventilation holes near the top of the dome. To strengthen the quinzhee we placed candles inside to let the walls melt and then refreeze.
Note: I was so sweaty and wet from carving and smoothing out the interior, and I should have definitely brought more warmer outer layers. I brought enough base layers, but we were done when it was night and the temperature had already dropped significantly. I ran laps around the quinzhee to get warm again and luckily group members gave me some top layers. It all felt better after a good dinner at the fire and campfire banana with chocolate for dessert!
Starting the day at 8am I pretty much fell asleep inside my sleeping bag inside our quinzhee instantly at 10pm. Missing out on some intense Northern lights. 😄
Next morning we had a good breakfast, packed our things, destroyed our quinzhee and skied back.
In contrast to igloos, quinzhees are not meant to be long-term (seasonal) shelters and more for winter camping and as a survival shelter. Constructing quinzhees is also much easier (the result is also considerably more fragile, i.e., more prone to collapsing in harsh weather conditions, e.g., strong winds).
I’d be interested in building an igloo, given the more elaborate building process and to me aesthetics of the shelter.