With all the snow on the ground I thought I’d practice some winter skills, so I decided to build a quinzhee. Yesterday I shoveled fresh snow into an approx 5′ high pile, maybe 8′ around. Today I began excavation. It’s a good idea to let the snow sit, as it sinters together.
I began with a snow shovel, digging on the leeward (and slightly downhill) side of the pile, taking pains to minimize the size of the hole in the side. I eventually got to the point where I couldn’t really reach any more snow inside the pile, scooping out what I could. I slithered into the hole, and just began chipping away at the inside walls with my gloves. As a bunch of powder accumulated on the floor, I pushed it down towards the opening and kicked it out with my feet.
I worked my way into the pile, until my feet were at the entrance; I figured in a real scenario a) you’d want to conserve energy, b) probably would be curled up to some degree, c) I felt safer with at least some part of me near the open air. I excavated upwards perhaps 2 feet or so, the point where I could sit in a slouching position, propped on my elbows.
While building it I noticed immediately that the temperature inside got to the point where I could not see my breath; dangerous, because this means you’re melting the snow, weakening it and sintering it further, which reduces its insulating properties.
I slithered back out of the hole, then went around to the side opposite the hole and gradually ‘screwed’ the handle of the shovel down into the hole until I met the inner chamber; this would be my air ventilation.
I was doing this solo, so I didn’t spend a lot of time sitting in it, I didn’t want to tempt fate and have 200 lbs of snow dump down on me. But, it was definitely warm in there, and out of the wind. I think since the entrance was on the leeward side I probably could have used a larger opening as well.
The downside? I did it wearing jeans and a cotton/polyester coat, and fleece gloves. When done, everything I was wearing, down to my shorts, was wet. My jeans were frozen at the cuffs. In a real survival situation, you’d be dead from hypothermia. The lesson – wear proper clothing, it gives you a much better chance, even if separated from the rest of your gear.