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How to build an igloo

by Red Hunt

While the igloo may be one of those iconic winter images that everyone is fascinated by, few have ever actually seen one. And fewer still have slept in one. This winter, while you’re travelling, don’t shun winter by staying indoors. Stay in an igloo! You can have a little fun by making an igloo of your own or you can go camping and stay in a pre-made igloo.

Igloo – or or iglu from Inuktitut – means “the house” and is the traditional home of the Inuit of Northern Canada. While we may see it as a fun thing to try, it’s a necessity for surviving in cold in snowy climates where trees and other forms of shelter are unavailable.

The beauty of making an igloo is in its simplicity. All you need is a saw or long knife to cut blocks of snow. Locating the proper, hardened snow is essential, so that your igloo won’t crumble apart as you build up your walls. Finding a location where the snow is at least one metre deep is perfect, as the deeper snow can be used to hollow out the inside of your igloo and create a nice sleeping area.

Once a suitable location has been found, follow these four steps to building your own igloo in the snow.

1. CUT THE SNOW BLOCKS

Hardened snow that can create sturdy blocks 20-30cm thick is ideal. You can cut a number of blocks at the start, before beginning the actual building of the igloo. To save time, it is best to cut these first blocks from where the inside of your igloo will be located.

2. IGLOO BASE

Creating a circular base is crucial to igloo building. Once the bottom layer of blocks is completed, you will want to cut the edges of them so that the tops are angled inwards, and have a gradual incline, similar to a spiral staircase.

3. BUILDING THE IGLOO

Continuing around and around, your igloo will eventually take shape as the snow blocks reach a point where the Igloo is waist high. At this point you should dig out the floor of the Igloo, so that it is lower than that first row of blocks, giving you more head room inside.

4. FINISHING THE IGLOO

The last few blocks near the top will need to be placed carefully from inside the Igloo, to avoid any collapse. Once completed, dig out an entrance for your igloo, then fill in all the holes and cracks between the blocks.

The snow will be insulating, but it will still be cold if you’re planning to sleep inside your igloo! You can add a couple of snow ledges for candles if you want, just be careful and be sure to poke some air vent holes in the top of the Igloo, to avoid melting. Igloo making can be a great winter activity with friends or family. It will take a few hours of hard work, so be prepared.

If you’d rather have someone else do all the work for you, then you can stay in some pre-made Igloos at many winter parks across Canada.

Some popular choices include Parc national des Monts-Valin and Parc national du Bic, which both provide igloo camping in Quebec, or the people at Westcoast Adventures in British Columbia, who offer some fun igloo adventures.

For more tips, watch this classic National Film Board of Canada 1949 short, How to build an Igloo.