Snow was flying all over the place in the field next to Mandel House on Wednesday as students constructed the snow piles that would later become 4 large quinzees. You might be asking, “What on earth is a quinzee?”. A quinzee is a snow shelter that is constructed by piling up and packing snow into a large pile and then hollowing out the middle. The quinzees that the students worked on are large enough that they will probably sleep about 4 people each when they are completed. Once they have been dug out, there will be opportunities during the weekends for students to sleep in the quinzees. I slept in a quinzee a few weeks ago, and they are surprisingly warm (especially when you are using two sleeping bags). The snow is an excellent insulator and keeps the temperature of the quinzee right around freezing even when outside air temperatures plummet. Winter camping in a quinzee is a unique experience that very few people have had, and we are very glad that the current snow conditions allow us to share this opportunity with the students.
I’m guessing that some parents might be wondering how safe quinzees are. Quinzees are actually very stable because they are a dome shape and the walls are at least 8 inches thick. Imagine starting with a nice round pile of well-packed snow that is about 10 ft. in diameter and about 5 feet high. Then you take some branches and break them into lots of 10-12 inch sticks. These sticks are then driven 8 inches into the snow on the top and all around the sides of the pile. The ends of the sticks are still visible above the snow, so the pile ends up looking like a big white hedgehog with brown fur! After the snow has set for a few hours (or in this case they were left overnight), the snow will transform and bind to itself due to the packing that occurred when the pile was being formed. Then all you need to do is to put on water proof clothing and dig out the center of the pile making a small entryway that you can crawl through to get into the quinzee. Eventually the digging will expose the end of a stick on the inside of the quinzee, and this is the signal to stop digging on that wall because it is about 8 inches thick.
This exercise in quinzee building was actually a part of the Stewardship in Action course that all Conserve School students take. The class meets on most Wednesday afternoons and begins with a college and careers exploration component. Then students have the opportunity to meet and hear from a professional who is working in an environmentally related field. This week we heard from Les, who owns an apiary (honeybee farm). During the last two hours of the class students are dispersed to different parts of campus to complete a service project. This week the service project for everyone in the school was quinzee building, but in future weeks the students will be working in small groups of 8-10 on projects that range from baking bread in the kitchen to invasive species removal. Weekends often provide optional community service opportunities that take place in the community around Conserve School.
~ Graduate Fellow Heather