How to Build a Quinzee: Winter Fun in the Snow

Who here likes winter?

Typically not me. I am a warm, summer breeze kind of girl who likes to lay on the beach or dig in her garden or go for a hikes through green forests. I am not a girl who likes frozen toes and runny noses and cars that don't start because it is minus 40 degrees outside. 

But since I am Canadian, and we Canadians get winter for 3/4 of the year (at least, it seems that way) every year I try to make the most of winter and look for fun winter adventures to pass the long, chilly months away.

About six years ago I wrote a post about some of the activities available to those intrepid people who choose to celebrate the winter weather, and in that post I mentioned building a quinzee.

Since then, I had more than few people ask me about quinzees as they were interested in building their own. They are very simple structures to engineer, but rather than writing the same thing over and over in response to people's questions, I thought, "Why not write a short post on the intricate art of quinzee construction so that others can partake?" And that's exactly what I am doing today. Enjoy.

Step One: Wait for snow

Obviously. But you cannot build a quinzee without ample amounts of that lovely white stuff. Luckily for us in Alberta, Canada, we usually get quite a bit. In fact, this morning we got a fresh layer of snow, so my family and I decided to head out to our backyard and build our 2018 quinzee, and I recorded the steps in honour of this post.

Snow in Canada is something you can always count on!

Step Two: Pile your snow

Use whatever you can to pile your snow, and the bigger the shovel the better, because this is the hardest part and possibly the least fun. You need enough to snow to ideally build a snow pile about 7 to 8 feet tall, which will make the quinzee large enough to house two adults. (To be completely honest, this has never happened for us, because we get tired eventually and decide that a half-size quinzee seems good enough versus a couple hours of more shovelling.)

Our pile of snow after one day of digging. It didn't get too much bigger in the following days...

Use your hands to bulldoze the snow into a pile. Add to it with shovels and scoops. Fill a wheelbarrow or box or buckets and dump the snow onto the pile. As you add snow, continually pack it down with your hands, or with the flat end of the shovel to make the quinzee as compact as you can. This will ensure it does not collapse on top of you later on due to air pockets and soft, weaker spots in the walls.

Step Three: Let it harden

Technically, quinzees do not harden. The proper word for the freezing and hardening process in quinzee construction is 'sinter'. We let a quinzee sinter.

The minimum amount of time recommended for a quinzee to sinter is around 2 hours. That is conditional, based on factors such as if you have packed the snow quite solidly, if you used a variety of different types of snow (powdery, icy, wet, etc.), and if the temperature is cold enough to refreeze the melted portions of snow you added to the quinzee walls.

We like to leave the quinzee overnight. That way the sun can melt some of the snow a bit during the day while you let it sit, and then the freezing night-time temperatures help to solidify - er, sinter - the quinzee to its final state.

After the exhausting job of piling snow, letting your quinzee sinter is the easy part!

You also might want to let it sinter for a day or two to see how much it shrinks due to freezing, because quinzees tend to do that. You can then add a few more dump trucks worth of snow to the structure to make it reach your ideal height.

We have cheated in the past, using a garden hose to lightly spray the quinzee during the construction and once more after it is done. Then we let the snow mound sit for about an hour while the water droplets freeze up and harden the quinzee enough for the next phase.

Step Four: Hollow it out

This is my favourite part, although ironically it is just as much physical labor at the dreaded step two, if not more. Choose a 'doorway' location for your quinzee, near the base of the quinzee and hopefully facing away from the wind.

Start digging! Use small shovels (think garden trowels) and your hands to first shape a doorway, then dig through to the middle of the quinzee. Scoop by scoop, hollow out your frozen mound of snow into an igloo formation.

Avy measures out the wall thickness using simple kitchen skewers.

For safety purposes, aim to keep the walls of the quinzee at least 1 to 2 feet thick. Not a good judge of thickness? A good trick is to stab some wooden BBQ skewers through the snow from the top of the quinzee until they are level with the surface. From within, you can use the ends of the skewers as measuring rods. When you encounter the end of a skewer as you are digging, you know you have reached the perfect wall thickness and can quit digging in that section.

Hollowing out your quinzee can be quick and easy, depending on how soft the snow is inside the mound. Smooth the walls and doorway out as much as you can so no one bonks their head on a protruding chunk of ice and you are set!

Step Five: Aerate 

To keep your quinzee comfy cozy, you might want to consider aerating it. One idea is to dig a trench in the snow at the bottom of your quinzee's interior, right down to the grass or dirt. Start your trench at the back of the quinzee and dig it right on out through the doorway. This helps to funnel the cold air out of the quinzee and keep it 'warm' - as warm as a quinzee can get. (Remember your science lessons, kids - cold air is heavier and sinks down.)

Our toddler-sized quinzee was too small to fit snow beds inside! Oh well!

Step Six: Decorate your new winter home!

This part is completely optional, but fun for the kids. If you have made your quinzee large enough, you might be able to build a snow chair or bed for guests to sit on.

You can also freeze water coloured with food colouring in balloons or milk jugs outside or in the freezer overnight. When you remove the balloon or the milk jug, you are left with beautifully coloured ice balls or blocks that can be used to decorate the interior or exterior of your new winter hideaway.

Our quinzee might be small, but this girl loves it!

Have you ever made a quinzee? If so, share your tips here in the comments section. If this post inspires you to go outside and construct one in your yard, please share you experience and photos on Instagram (#downthewrabbithole) or on Twitter (@thewrabbithole) so we can all enjoy your efforts!

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