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A quinzee is a snow shelter built by hollowing out a large pile of snow. Other types of snow shelters good for sleeping in include igloos, constructed by stacking blocks of snow that have been formed or cut; and snow caves, which are dug into a deep snowpack, ideally on a slope.

Snow caves are efficient for backcountry travel because they are fast to build, though not roomy. Igloos can be as big as you’d like but are a major undertaking. Quinzees can be built with less sensitivity to snow conditions than an igloo, since piling snow causes it to melt & refreeze to itself.

The major labor component of a quinzee is hollowing out the pile of snow through a small opening. What if you only had to pile up the snow that you wanted to be there as the walls and roof of your structure? This instructable will show you how to do that using a weather balloon. I found that you can build a quinzee tall enough to stand in and wide enough to sleep 3 people with about 2 hours’ work by 2 people.

Step 1: Equipment

Picture of Equipment
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Here’s the equipment you need.

-1 avalanche shovel per person

-2 avalanche probes (or 1 per person)

-2 200g weather balloons, $20 from High Altitude Science (you only need one, but take a spare!)

-1 foot bellows pump, e.g. $9 from Intex

-1 tent rainfly or tarp (will double as moisture barrier you sleep on)

-Snow stakes or other anchors for rainfly

-2 short & fat rubber bands

Variations and Notes:

You can use anything you want as a pump. The Intex pump I used is quite heavy at 2lbs, but only cost $9 and pumps a lot of air quick. I also tried an Exped Schnozzle Pumpbag (~$35), but it’s slower and it’s very annoying to have to use your arms to pump (will take around 300 bag-fuls). Finally, there are smaller foot bellows pumps that are also more expensive, which may be a good compromise if you’re actually planning to pack stuff in some distance from civilization.

MommyKittyCGT5 months ago
Watched my husband build something similar with the kids in the back yard. But a card table with a sheet over it was used instead of a balloon and a tarp. Not sure he realized just how heavy snow was at that point. No children were lost in the making of the fort thank goodness.
eecharlie (author)  MommyKittyCGT5 months ago
Interesting, was he able to get the card table out without destroying the fort? What I'd be concerned about there is that with a table-flat ceiling, you are not getting the structural integrity of an arch, but instead have a bunch of dead-weight snow hanging from the outer layer of snow that is probably holding the whole thing up. It can be sculpted into an arch after the fort is built, though.
A weather balloon can be a fun and interesting physics toy for kids (and adults!), because it's very squishy yet supports a lot of weight, and is huge but nearly weightless - the balloon I used weighs 7oz. It can be bounced around and floats in the air even better than a beach ball.
I've never heard of this technique for building a snow shelter before; thanks for sharing it!
eecharlie (author)  Penolopy Bulnick5 months ago
To my knowledge, it's never been done this way before! Added Endnotes step explaining the thought process that led to it.