SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — There are no supply-chain issues when it comes to snow this season. Our recent winter storms have provided plenty of building materials for snowy structures known as quinzees: think snow fort with a dome on top. One such quinzee went up behind the Outdoor Campus in Sioux Falls.

Seen from the back, it looks like just another big pile of snow that dots the wintry landscape around Sioux Falls. But step into the front yard, and you’ll see this pile has a lived-in look.
It’s called a quinzee. And these snow shelters are popping up all over as a cozy backyard refuge in the cold.

“Truthfully, I’ve seen people posting online quite often right now, a ton of people are building these in their backyard right now, because it’s just another fun activity to get outside and enjoy,” Andy Te Slaa of Sioux Falls said.

We asked the staff at the Outdoor Campus, along with quinzee enthusiast Andy (teh’slah) Te Slaa to build one from scratch.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s fun,” Outdoor Campus Naturalist Sandy Richter said.

You start by shoveling snow, something most of you are used to by now, and dumping it into a pile.

“Imagine scooping your driveway out and that’s what it’s going to be doing a quinzee, you’re just moving snow into a big pile,” Richter said.

Unlike previous winters, this year, there’s plenty of snow within easy reach.

“When you have deeper snow, it’s a lot easier because all that snow is accessible right there. If you only have 3 or 4 inches, then the snow is still there, but you have to go farther out to get it and it’s hauling snow in,” Te Slaa said.

Once your pile is high enough, then the big dig begins.

“I come in probably about two or three feet and then I start digging out up top, and then I will start rounding-out all the walls and everything like that. It gets really difficult for the first couple of feet in there, but as soon as you can get your whole body inside, then it goes really fast,” Te Slaa said.

It took four people about a half-hour to build this quinzee.

“The 17 inches of snow that we had here, we just picked up the snow around the circle here an just piled it on top, it really was an easy feat,” Richter said.

You’d think that a hollowed-out pile of snow wouldn’t be very sturdy at all. But look at this: you can actually stand on top of it, and it won’t collapse, or anything. Such is the power of snow.

“All the snow is actually binding together and it creates a really, really solid structure,” Te Slaa said.

“You want to make sure that you’ve got a nice bit of height that you can build your dome up, otherwise, you’re just going to have a really low ceiling,” Richter said.

Our construction crew let the quinzee sit overnight to firm it up even more. There’s nothing flimsy about this quinzee. And it’s plenty warm inside, too.

“These are used for winter camping quite often, even if it’s negative 40 outside, it’s still going to be between 20 and 30 degrees inside the quinzee as long as you put a nice little barrier at the door,” Te Slaa said.

Crawling inside a quinzee is like stepping back in time to a childhood tradition of building snow forts. And this comeback of quinzees, aided by ample snowfall, provides families of today with a winter home, under a dome.

“South Dakota has so much ample outdoor potential and a lot of people think as soon as it gets cold, you stop going outside and that’s not the case. There’s so much to do in the winter months, as well,” Te Slaa said.

To safely build your quinzee, you’ll want to have at least one other person with you as you dig it out, just in case it collapses. Also, if you’re planning to spend the night in one, you’ll want to have a hole in the top for ventilation.

Quinzees are for recreational uses only. You should never try to build one if you get stranded in the snow and cold. You’ll just use up too much energy, which will put you even more at-risk to the outdoor elements.