The quinzhee

The informant notes that despite its immense popularity among outdoorsman, the origin of the quinzhee is very much uncertain. Unlike the Eskimo igloo which is less popular but more well-known, it seems to her and many of her colleagues that the quinzhee has never really been associated with a specific culture.

The quinzhee is more or less an easier and more convenient version of the igloo for short-term housing. Building an igloo would require an ice saw and hours of meticulous work in sawing snow into blocks of ice – and then hours more of actually assembling the blocks. On the other hand a quinzhee needs nothing more than a shovel and can be easily built in half an afternoon. It certainly isn’t as photogenic as the igloo, but it gets the job done for cross country skiers and snowshoers.

All you have to do as a start is just to make a big pile of snow. At the most basic level this can be accomplished by simply shoveling snow into a pile. Most people, however, would choose to throw in a couple of backpacks as a starting point – the pile will later have to be hollowed out anyways.

But it’s not a simple hollowing out. An entrance needs to be dug, and then an elevated sleeping platform – if the sleeping platform is on the same level as the entrance then much of the heat will simply dissipate out the entrance. The dome must be smoothed out, or otherwise parts of it will be melted over the night by the heat and drip onto the people inside.


She was my instructor in the outdoor education program that I enrolled into at my high school. She knew of the quinzhee because every year as part of the program’s curriculum she would take the class on a snow-shoeing or cross-country ski trip. She would teach the class how to build a quinzhee as very much necessary knowledge for survival in the snow.


A demonstration of the crucial role folk knowledge plays in outdoor education. The informant commented that as far as she knew, all written recordings pertaining to quinzhees were taken from pre-existing folk knowledge, first developed by First Nations and adopted by early settlers.