The next time you go cross country skiing / snow camping with multiple friends, the snow conditions are conducive and want to add more adventure to your excursion, consider digging a Snow Cave Condo in the wilderness, to spend the winter nights.
I had the opportunity to put this into practice in the mountains near Cascade ID and Sandpoint ID, as a member of a State of Idaho EMS Back Country Medical Rescue Team, during winter survival / patient treatment and evacuation exercises.
When arriving at your destination on cross country skis, and a suitable snowbank is selected in a safe location, drop your packs, and break into teams of 2.
A dry set of zip lock bagged long underwear, wool socks, shirt, fleece jacket, and wool stocking cap, to be at the ready, after this activity.
Each team of 2 will be approx. 10’ apart, parallel to the designated snow bank.
One member of each team will be designated the “Digger”, while the other will be designated “Mucker”.
Both will be equipped with suitable avalanche shovels and protective clothing for this activity.
My choice for Avalanche Rescue and this activity was a Breakdown Aluminum Grain Shovel, handle and shovel fastened together with a heavy duty Hitch Pin Clip.
As the Digger, my choice of outer clothing was a GoreTex lined Parka & Bib Snow Pants, Wool Socks, Cross Country Ski Boots, Gators, Insulated Gloves, and Wool Stocking Cap.
The Digger will start digging a tunnel entrance into the snow bank, while the Mucker continuously removes the accumulated snow from the Digger’s activity, and pitches it away from the snow cave entrance.
As the Digger proceeds to tunnel straight into the snow bank, the Mucker will cut out an entrance shelf below the snow cave entrance.
Cold air settles to low spots, so the objective is to have cold air flow down and out of the snow cave and away from the snow cave entrance, as well as not having cold outside air flow down and into the snow cave.
Once the Digger tunnels approx 10’ inside, the Digger will start shoveling away at the walls and ceiling of the tunnel, to fashion a domed room, large enough for 2 individuals to stand upright.
The Digger also will carve out on opposite walls of the snow cave, individual horizontal shelves for sleeping, leaving an isle in the middle of the snow cave for gear storage and safe exit from the snow cave.
Adjacent to each sleeping shelf, the Digger will carve out a horizontal kitchen shelf, large enough for a stove, pocket lantern, and cooking accessories.
With a cross county ski pole attached basket, and positioned above the kitchen shelf, punch a hole upward, through to the outside of the snow cave, making a chimney vent, for each of the kitchen stoves.
The Digger will smooth out any rough areas of the domed snow cave interior, to avoid “drip” points of water.
Now it is time to connect the snow caves, to create a Snow Cave Condo.
Using a ski pole as a probe, the Digger and adjacent snow cave team will determine the best tunnel route into the adjacent snow cave.
The Digger will then dig a short tunnel from within the snow cave into the adjacent teams snow cave, providing interior access to the adjoining snow cave(s).
All the while, the Mucker will be removing the excess snow from the snow cave, created by the Digger.
The Digger will then fire up a backpacking stove, and warm the interior of the snow cave, to slightly melt the smooth snow cave interior shell.
Once the stove is shut off, the air will cool, the damp snow surface on the snow cave interior will refreeze, adding structural strength to the snow cave.
Place a section of non-porous plastic sheeting or ground cover over each of the sleeping shelves, then cover each with 2 insulated closed cell sleeping pads, topped off with a bivy sack enclosed cold temp. rated sleeping bag.
Change into clean dry clothes.
Enjoy your customized survival shelter, as you are among friends, together celebrating your accomplishment over hot food and beverages, while using a section of insulated closed foam as a chair.
Spend a secure night, well protected from the harsh winter elements outside your Snow Cave Condo, and savor this outdoor experience you will remember for the rest of your life.