Quinzee Building and Sleep-Out
Quinzee Building and Sleep-Out
Emily Hayne, Wilderness Fellow

"You can't get too much winter in the winter." --Robert Frost

Winter in the northwoods lasts a long time. Within the first three weeks of the semester CS16 students have gone sledding on the hill, cross-country skied, snowshoed on our trails, skated on ice, howled into the night to wait for a response from the wilderness, and played in the snow in every manner imaginable.

One afterschool activity in particular got students thinking about the task of building a fort made with natural materials. Taking the timeless activity of fort building into the great outdoors, our students used our abundant snow to build quinzees. According to Alderleaf Wilderness College, the word "quinzee" is an indigenous term. Unlike an igloo that is made up of blocks of hard snow, the quinzee is essentially a pile of snow that can be constructed by shoveling snow into a mound, compacting it with snowshoes then letting it settle. During an Outdoor Skills workshop, led by teaching fellow, Austin Christensen, about 20 students helped create these winter structures that took two afternoons to complete.

On the first day students spent over an hour shoveling snow into three separate mounds. As the snow piles grew, students took turns compacting it. They strapped on snowshoes and slowly worked their way up the side of a mound, step by step, until they reached the top. They managed to carefully stomp the pile down just enough for the fluffy snow to start forming into a hard pile. With the sun setting, students left the soon-to-be quinzees in the field to settle overnight.


The next day, with three domes of snow formed together into sturdy structures, the quinzees were shaped by using shovels and glove-covered hands to dig an opening to the shelter. As the students worked on hollowing out this structure, tree poles were placed in the side of the mounds to help determine how thick the shell of the structure should be to prevent them from collapsing. Soon enough students had removed enough snow from the inside of each quinzee for people to go in and enjoy the hard and rewarding work of quinzee building.

Staff and students did not want to let the quinzees go unused, so there was a quinzee sleep-out on a February night. The quinzees on campus were large enough for four people to sleep in each of them. There was an Elaine house quinzee, Donahue house quinzee and a staff quinzee. Conserve School students enjoyed testing the quinzees and were prepared for the cold. They brought sleeping bags and pads as well as layers of clothes to bundle up for the night. The next morning students commented on how they enjoyed the experience and for the most part, stayed warm.