Dig a snowcave on a family snowshoe adventure

Filed in Expert Articles, Snowshoeing by on November 10, 2013

TWG_story_snshoe04imgDo you know how to dig a snowcave? Have you ever tried? Burrowing into snowdrifts comes instinctively to kids playing in the snow, but consider that possessing this skill could save a life in a winter emergency. Luckily, learning the skills of digging a snowcave is a heck of a lot of fun, and it feels adventuresome to crawl on in and then lay back to relax.

Like learning how to build a fire, knowing how to dig a snowcave is an essential survival skill. Of course, snowcaves can also be use recreationally for winter camping.

The first important consideration in digging a snowcave is the site selection. Choose a spot that is deeply drifted with snow. You’ll want at least four feet of depth so look in shady nooks where the snow piles deep. The deeper the snow is, the better. Also, face the entrance to your cave away from the prevailing winds.

Now dig down several feet and create a standing area so you’re looking at a vertical face of deep snow. Start digging an entrance into the face and pull snow away from your staging area. Keep the ceiling thick and dome-like. This shape along with a thick roof will give the roof plenty of solid structure and insulation.

I like to split a family into teams of two. The goal is to dig a cave that both people can comfortably lay in. The ideal digging tools are compact avalanche shovels and high-cuffed gauntlet style mittens to keep your hands dry. Snowcave digging is a full contact activity and lying on one’s belly and pulling snow out of a hole requires digging in with both arms.

TWG_story_snshoe04cimgIn a real-life scenario you may have to use sticks and limbs as digging tools, and boughs to cover the entrance. Work as a team with one person burrowing out the cave, and the other pulling snow piles away from the entrance and staging area. Alternate positions to change up the workload.

When two people can crawl in and lay down, try to level the floor so it’s comfortable. Some final touches may include a small vent hole trough the ceiling, and blocking the entrance with packs or gear to hold in warmth.

In a real winter emergency scenario a roaring fire is best and you will likely be safe and be easy to find by rescuers. Without fire, Colorado winter nights are cold, especially when it is clear and starry. By digging a snowcave and crawling in, the ambient temperature is about 40 degrees Fahrenheit and will enable you to survive. Above the snow, the temperature is easily below Zero.



TWG_story_snshoe04bimgImmersing yourself in a backcountry environment high in the mountains, and then digging a snowcave for the fun of it is both challenging and rewarding. This type of outing is perfect for anyone who likes to dig!

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