How to Build a Quinzhee

We just posted a video about how to build a quinzhee—a snow shelter that makes a great fort in the backyard or an even better shelter to camp out in in the great Northwoods. Making the video and building the quinzhee brought back some thoughts about when I first made one, so thought I’d share here.

The first time I built a qunizhee I was on an end-of-winter trip to Yellowstone, where we skied into the backcountry for a few days and set up a basecamp. My friend John Gillies was living in Wyoming at the time, teaching at an outdoor science school near Jackson Hole, so he had the quinzhee know-how to share.

There were lots of things that stayed in my mind about the quinzhee over the years, like how easy it was to build, the small miracle of the snow re-crystalizing in a way that was strong enough to create walls high enough to make a comfortable place to hang out, the plain fun of making it. But the thing I liked most was how warm the quinzhee was to sleep in.

The snow really holds in the heat. To a non-snow-camper, it may not sound like a great thing to say the inside air temp can get about freezing, or even a little above, but consider this. The last time I snow camped, the night time temp fell to about -15, and all we had between us and the cold was a thin nylon tarp, meaning we were pretty much surrounded by -15 air. There’s almost 50 degrees difference between -15 and 32 degrees.

Well, I don’t want to spoil the video by giving away all the great info. So check out How to Build a Quinzhee.

I know you’ll like it.

Also, thanks to videographer Jeff Morgan for doing a dynamite job behind the camera and in the editing cubicle, and likewise to Chris and Dan Mills, who did a marvelous job in front of the camera. And of course, to our dog Codi for some great stick-handling moments.

Jeff Smith is editor of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine and

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One thought on “How to Build a Quinzhee”

  1. Justin and the boys build a quinzhee in our backyard every year. Next year, they will try their hand at hike in winter camping near Bohemia– and the plans are already the talk of the winter. I love the science and the history lessons that we have tied into the construction of the quinzhee…and the boys just love the magic of such sturdy snow forts!

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