Exterior of a quinzhee facing the entrance.

A quinzhee or quinzee (pronounced /ˈkwɪnzi/) is a shelter made by hollowing out a pile of settled snow. This is in contrast to an igloo, which is made from blocks of hard snow. The word is of Athabaskan origin[1].

Uses Edit

For fun, or for winter camping and survival purposes, it is possible to construct a snow shelter by gathering a large pile of snow and excavating the inside.

Differences between a quinzhee and an igloo Edit

The snow for a quinzhee need not be of the same quality as required for an igloo. Quinzhees are not usually meant as a form of permanent shelter, while igloos can be used for seasonal and year round habitation. The construction of a quinzhee is much easier than the construction of an igloo, although the overall result is somewhat less sturdy and more prone to collapsing in harsh weather conditions. Quinzhees are normally constructed in times of necessity, usually as an instrument of survival, so aesthetic and long-term dwelling considerations are normally exchanged for economy of time and materials.

Construction Edit

To begin one must locate a relatively flat area where snow is in abundance. It is important to use snow that hasn't been piled naturally. If the snowpile is natural (i.e. a snow drift), it must first be broken up. This is done to prevent a situation where there are two different levels of setness, which can cause collapse during excavations. One must then pile snow to its desired height (typically 6 - 10 feet) and leave it for a length of time to harden (typically 3–6 hours). It is worth noting that a small quinzhee is more desirable than a larger one as all of the hot air within them rises to the top. In other words, a smaller quinzhee affords a warmer living environment than a larger one typically would. Quinzhees are not typically built so one can stand in them. The resident should be able to comfortably sit up inside while perhaps being able to crouch. One should also attempt to make a pile of snow in front of the quinzhee about four feet in length which will serve as a tunnel to gain access to the structure. After piling the snow the site should be left for up to several hours while the snow sets, making excavation possible. Before excavating one can put sticks in the roof and wall, approximately 10 in (25 cm) deep, to be used as a guide when digging out the interior. After this is completed one digs until the sticks are reached.

Igloo outside

A quinzhee made in Finland

Dangers Edit

People climbing on the structure are the primary reason why quinzhees collapse. A collapsing quinzhee can be very dangerous if someone gets caught inside. Just as in an avalanche, the weight of the snow often makes it impossible to dig oneself free. Suffocation may occur if the occupants are not rescued quickly enough. In addition to this, many quinzhees collapse during their construction for a variety of reasons, including poor snow conditions, warm weather, construction problems (hitting a supporting wall) or failure to let the snow set long enough. To protect oneself against collapse during construction, one should only dig a quinzhee while on one's knees, never one's back. In the event of collapse, someone stands a much better chance at digging himself out if he is on his knees.

A quinzhee should only be constructed alone if in a survival situation.

See alsoEdit


  1. Allen & Mike's Really Cool Backcountry Ski Book: Traveling and Camping Skills for a Winter Environment, Allen O'Bannon, illustrations by Mike McClelland, Chockstone Press, 1996, ISBN 1-57540-076-6, pg. 80-86.

External linksEdit

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