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Exterior of a quinzhee facing the entrance.

A quinzhee or quinzee 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][2] and entered the English language by 1984.[3]


  • Uses 1
  • Differences between a quinzhee and an igloo 2
  • Construction 3
  • Dangers 4
  • Lumitalos 5
  • See also 6
  • Bibliography 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


For fun or for winter camping and survival purposes, it is possible to construct a quinzhee, also known as a snow shelter, by gathering a large pile of snow and excavating the inside. The name "quinzee" or "quinzhee" comes from the Athabascan First Nations People.

Differences between a quinzhee and an igloo

An igloo is made by cutting blocks from packed snow and stacking them. A quinzhee is made by making a pile of snow, then hollowing out the inside.

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.


A quinzhee made in Finland

Quinzhee are typically built on a flat area where snow is in abundance. Builders break up any snowdrifts or naturally formed piles to reduce the risk of collapse due to different amounts of sintering that can occur. Snow is typically piled 6 to 10 feet high in a circle 8 feet in diameter. It is then left for 2 to 8 hours to sinter, allowing the moisture in the different levels of snow to spread among the crystals and the snow crystals to bond. Packing the snow down speeds the bonding process. Quinzhees typically have an inside height after excavation which allows for sitting or crouching but not standing. Many builders insert small sticks of the same length, approximately 10-24 inches (25 cm), into the top of the structure to be used as a guide when digging out the interior. Colder weather calls for thicker walls. According to Halfpenny and Ozane, in general the wall at the base should be at least 12 inches wide and at the top about 8 inches thick. A small air vent for circulation can be poked in the roof.[4]

Much time and effort is used to hollow out the center of a Quinzee. Instead, make a hollow volume before you pile snow. Use 6-10 old fiberglass tent poles and a heavy blue or silver tarp to create a dome. Duct-tape the centers of the poles together for strength. Do not let the tarp edges extend too far from the dome. PIle snow >2 feet deep, using sticks to measure depth. Let solidify for >2 hours. Tunnel under dome, remove tent poles, remove tarp, add an air hole, and then create another dome. Use a backpack for a door.

The inside of a shelter can easily rise above the freezing point. Smooth the inside roof and walls to prevent dripping. Scrape the walls and roof of the cave to make it smooth. Irregular, bumpy surfaces will drip water onto the cave floor, instead of directing water down the walls to gather around the edges.


Quinzhees can collapse from poor snow conditions, warm weather, construction problems (hitting a supporting wall), failure to let the snow sinter long enough, or from people climbing on it. Collapse poses a danger of suffocation.

For safety, one person should be outside the quinzee while another is digging inside. Place a shovel, branch, hiking pole, or such near the head of sleeping person for roof support, to break a falling roof to create an air gap, and/or a tool to dig out. One shovel should be left outside to mark the door and aid rescuers in digging occupants out.


A lumitalo is a more elaborate snow-house or building made out of snow in a manner similar to a quinzhee. The term is Finnish in origin.[5]

The city of Houghton, Michigan, builds a lumitalo as part of its annual Winter Carnival held by Michigan Technological University.[6]

See also


  • Halfpenny, James C. & Roy Ozanne (1989). Winter: An Ecological Handbook. Boulder, CO: Johnson Books. p. 230-234. 


  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.
  2. ^ Streever, Bill (2009). Cold: Adventures in the World's Frozen Places. New York: Little, Brown and Company. p. 187.  
  3. ^ "Does English still borrow words from other languages?".  
  4. ^ Winter: An Ecological Handbook', James C. Halfpenny & Roy Ozanne, Johnson, 1989, p. 230-234
  5. ^ Lumitalo and other Heikinpäivä events. Keweenaw Peninsula. February 8, 2002.
  6. ^ Houghton's Snow House. Keweenaw Peninsula. February 8, 2002.

External links

  • How to Build Winter Shelters and Survive
  • How to build a Quinzhee. Video.
  • How to build a Quinzee Snow Shelter
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