Before you begin make sure you have the following:

  • One foot or more of freshly fallen snow
  • Two or more adults
  • A snow saw
  • A snow shovel
  • A piece of rope about four feet in length
  • Forms to build your bricks (I use kitty litter bins)

1. Wait for the right storm
You will need at least a foot of fresh snow to build a solid igloo (without too much work scraping snow from the ground). I prefer to start building as soon as the sun is above the horizon. Any good packing snow will do. If you can make a good snowball from the snow, you are in business. If it is really cold out the snow will tend to dry out and will be less amenable to packing. The sun definitely helps here a lot, so if it is super-cold out you might need to wait until the sun has cooked the snow a bit.

2. Pick your spot
Find a nice open area with preferably lots of untouched snow. Once the snow has been stepped on or walked through it is much harder to pack into blocks. Also an igloo inside of a pristine field of snow is just prettier.

3. Stake out the center of your igloo
Stake a piece of wood or any vertical stick into the snow where you want the center of your igloo to be. Now take a piece of rope about the length of a shovel and tie it around a pole or a stick. While holding the rope taught (it helps to have a friend keep the stick from moving), walk around in circles outlining the outer edge of your igloo. 

3. Build a nice foundation
With a wide snow shovel start heaping snow into a large mound inside the circle you just marked out in the snow. I like to shovel the snow to at least two feet deep. Now start stomping over the pile and smashing it with the back end of the shovel. You are basically trying to compact the snow as best you can. I like to march around in circles from the inside moving outward in concentric circles. The foundation will tend to cave outward as you step on it, but you can clean up the edges later. If you lose track of the shape of your igloo's circular base just retrace it with the rope one more time. 

Building a solid foundation is what I call a "friendly cheat." It not only saves some of the effort of brick building, but also makes it a lot easier to build benches into the igloo when it's finished. Most importantly the base serves as a perfect guide for placing your first blocks and really helps with the coiling process (described below).

4. Start building bricks
You will want to have as many igloo brick makers as you have helpers because the process of making snow bricks is the most tedious and uneventful part of building an igloo. My preferred brick form is a giant tidy-cat kitty litter bin. It is super rigid and strong (so it can take the punishment of repeated packing with snow) but it also can be squeezed a bit on its sides which helps get the bricks out. It's slightly tapered shape also yields a nice brick shape for helping you bend the walls of the igloo inward. 

Here are the steps to making a good snow brick
1) Fill the form with fresh unpacked snow
2) Pack the snow tightly into the form (I use my hands but some people prefer their boots)
3) Flip the form upside down
4) Pat the form on its sides to help loosen the brick
5) Slide the form up and your brick should stay in place on the ground
6) Let the brick set for at least 20 but preferably 45 minutes. Letting the brick rest is super critical. If you try to pick the brick up immediately it will almost surely fall apart on you. You need to give it time to freeze up a bit and harden. A properly set brick can be picked up cleanly with two hands and maintain its form and edges. 

5. Keep building bricks
Try to be methodical as you build your bricks in what I call "the snow quarry". Be efficient with the snow to reduce the distance you have to travel later to bring the bricks to the igloo. I like to lay out the bricks in ever-expanding concentric circles around the igloo. This way the closest bricks will be the oldest and ready to be built into the igloo. I have never counted but I estimate you will need about 150 - 200 bricks. If you think you have enough don't. Keep making bricks. It is much better to have all your materials ready to go before you start building up the igloo. This way you don't run out of bricks at a later critical stage. 

6. Start laying down your bricks
Now the real fun begins. If you foundation's edge has become blurred or rough, re-establish it with the rope one more time (you want it to be as nearly perfectly circular as possible).  Now on the edge of the foundation dig out a space as deep as a single brick and place your first brick in it. The long axis of the brick should run perpendicular to the igloos' radii. Move along (clockwise) and with each subsequent brick dig the hold in the foundation just a bit less deeply. As you complete your first ring of the igloo you should no longer need to remove any snow to place the brick and it should rest directly on top of the first brick you placed. 

Unlike a brick building, you are going to be coiling the bricks on themselves like a snake. This insures that every brick you place has one to its side and bricks beneath it. This provides the stability needed as the igloo gets higher.

7. Keep coiling and start leaning inwards
As you lay down the bricks try to slowly taper the walls inwards. The person laying down the bricks is essentially bricking himself up inside the igloo. He/she will then have to cut himself out of the igloo from the inside once its complete. As you lay the bricks down you will notice they will not lay nicely next to each other. When this happens use the snow saw to carve off parts of the block to make them lay nicely next to each other. You want to minimize any space between the bricks. 

8. Dig out the foundation
When the igloo reaches about waist high start shoveling out the inner parts of the foundation. Be careful as you throw the snow out of the igloo not to hit the wall with the snow. You can wait to do this until the igloo is finished, but it is much easier to remove snow with a shovel while the igloo is open then when the igloo is complete and you only have a small door to push snow through. Don't dig too deep. You don't want to expose the grass or dirt underneath the igloo. That would just be distasteful. 

9. Topping off
As the igloo nears completion you enter the hazard zone. The bricks are going to be nearly parallel to the ground and they will want to fall down. The trick here is just to keep stacking and cutting the bricks as you have been doing. Your outside helper by this stage will need to either tall or have access to a step stool. The outside person will raise the bricks up to the leading edge of the igloo and inner brick layer will just hold the bricks in place and keep the form up in its final stages. 

10. Cut yourself out
Take the snow and cut a small door in the side of the igloo. You can choose how big or small to make the opening. I tend to like a door about three rows tall. 

11. Crawl out of the igloo and enjoy!
No instructions needed.

1 comment:

  1. We build these all the time as kids. Our method may be a bit easier. You would want "packy" snow. The kind that makes good snowballs. You just make a huge pile of snow, compacting it with the back of the shovel every so often. Then dig out the center with your gloves. The walls would be about 4 inches thick. How would you know? Well you would dig out the walls until you could see a bit of sunlight. They would last until spring. Never had a cave-in.