The Igloo Experiment

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This weekend my friends Momo and Pavel drove up from New Mexico to go winter camping with me.  Our plan was to try out this new Igloo making tool that I recently bought.  The tool is specially made for constructing igloos – it is basically a curved box attached to a pole which is staked in the center.  You rotate the box around the center radius and keep packing snow into it to form perfect blocks, spiraling up layer upon layer and adjusting the pole to preset lengths as you go, eventually forming a perfectly egg-shaped igloo.  Simple enough in theory.

We hiked up about 1600 feet above Ouray and at 2:30pm started building the igloo on a flat ledge with a nice vista to the west.  The manufacturers claim a 3 hours build time, so just to be safe I was planning on 4 hours (after all we had three people).  Well, long story short, it took us 8 hours to build this damn thing!  It was pretty nerve-wracking when we realized how long it was taking, since we were depending on the igloo shelter for our warmth in the bitter cold night.  Plus we were never quite sure whether it would really work or not. We could have always just packed up and followed our tracks back down to the truck, but we were pretty exhausted from the hike up, and were determined to make this thing work.  Well, with headlamps and a large dose of stubborn determination, we finally completed the entire igloo at 10:30 at night.

Though the igloo took a surprisingly huge amount of effort to build, it really was pretty awesome when it was done.  Outside was blowing snow, with temps in the single digits, but inside the igloo was calm, peaceful, and relatively warm.  Too bad we didn’t have much time to enjoy it, as we all pretty much immediately got into our sleeping bags and crashed for the night.

I am pretty disappointed with this wonderful igloo tool.  One of the big claims of the makers is that you can build igloos using any type of snow.  While it may be true that this is possible, we found that the ease of packing the blocks was highly dependent on the snow quality… to the point where we could really only use the top 8 inches of fresh snow – the underlying crusty/granular snow was almost no use.  So instead of just digging all the snow around us, we had to walk back and forth going farther and farther to collect the good snow.

That said, I do think that given the right conditions, the igloo would be much easier to build.  For one thing, we should have started earlier in the day while the sun was out, which would have warmed the snow and made it more cohesive when packing.  Secondly, it would have been a huge help to have a nice big shovel, instead of the little backcountry avy shovels we had.  But most importantly, unless you want to waste a whole day on manual labor in the snow, you’ve just got to chose the right snow conditions to do this in.

This was one of those trips that seemed so torturous at the time but looking back it was kind of fun in a masochistic sort of way.  To be honest I was pretty proud of us for sticking with it and finishing the igloo despite the odds.  I’m not sure if I’ll be building any more igloos any time soon though… 

Check out more of Momo’s photos from the trip here.

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