Digging a snow cave is not only fun, it also ensures a unique overnight experience. Our ski touring expert reveals how it works. We also have some real expert tips ready.
For ski tourers, every gram often counts, especially for longer activities. A tent that almost always costs one to two kilos per person does not always fit perfectly into the concept. Fortunately, there is a remedy in the snow. With one to two hours of work you can build a nice “house in the snow”. This is quite simple!
The perfect building site
Snow has the wonderful property that it is superbly insulated, stable and yet easy to shape. These properties can be used when sleeping in the snow or in an emergency. Instead of a tent that not only takes weight but also takes up space, you can quickly build your own four outdoor walls.
Whether an igloo or a snow cave is more suitable depends on the type of snow and the thickness of the snow cover. Fluffy powder snow or greasy wet snow are extremely unsuitable for an igloo and require more effort to get to the deeper layers of snow.
A snow cave, on the other hand, is best dug on a suitable edge of the terrain or a snow break. The snow depth should be at least two meters. Optimal is a snow that is not too wet and yet at least solidified on the surface. If in doubt, you should test the snow resistance in a few places. You can measure them quite easily with an avalanche probe, which you should always carry with you in the open touring area.
Once you have found a suitable place, you dig an entrance with the avalanche shovel on the side of the Wechte that faces away from the wind. This should be so far below the uppermost point of the snow changes that you can later dig from the inside up until you have reached a comfortable seat height. In addition, there should be at least two meters of space that you can literally dig into.
The entrance is placed slightly downwards and digs upwards after about half a meter. The cold air is later to collect in the resulting depression. It also prevents wind from blowing directly into the cave and keeps the temperatures in the interior at comparatively pleasant temperatures. A warm sleeping bag with an insulating mat makes the night really cozy.
Allocation of work is everything
If you are traveling in pairs or in a larger group, it is recommended to shovel in rows. One person does the actual digging work on the snow front, the other person (s) remove the snow. Since the shovel work is very exhausting, you should alternate every few minutes if you want to finish quickly.
Finally, you dig up slightly and lay an egg-shaped blanket. The higher you dig, the more comfortable the cave becomes. Especially when you get into your ice-cold ski boots in the morning, you are happy for every inch of air. A suitable cave for two people measures approximately 2.5 meters in length, 1.8 meters in width and 1.5 meters in height. Luggage can be stowed away comfortably and a moisture-sensitive sleeping bag hardly bumps against the snow wall.
After the rough work, you can still work on the interior of the cave. Some “shelves” on the walls make it easier to stow the material you have brought with you. You should also remove “snow noses” from the ceiling and walls, as condensation can quickly collect and drip here. A level lying surface increases sleeping comfort. Before going to sleep, you can barricade the entrance with large blocks of snow and the backpacks you brought with you, so that the wind does not blow the entrance to the cave. For sufficient fresh air supply, however, one should pay attention to air holes!
An average comfortable cave takes about one to two hours. An emergency cave is also dug in half an hour. If you want to be really comfortable and enjoy headroom, it can take three hours. For a larger group of four or more, it is advisable to dig at the same time in two caves next to each other with two entrances, as this will get you twice as fast. Afterwards, you fill up an entrance with larger chunks of snow.
Are snow caves safe?
It is important for a snow cave that the snow cover is stable and well set. Wet foul snow is unsuitable because it can collapse. When digging, you should also take into account that with a larger cave width, the ceiling tends to sag somewhat at night.
In order not to suffocate on your own emitted CO², but also to let water vapor escape, it is recommended to pierce several ventilation holes from above with the avalanche probe. The cave should be marked with skis from the outside. After leaving the cave, it should be destroyed so as not to leave an unpleasant trap for other tourers!
Of course, the chosen location should be safe from alpine dangers and especially avalanches. Special care should be taken here!
Tips for building a snow cave
- When building snow caves, you usually notice after a few minutes whether your own avalanche shovel is really suitable. It should be torsionally rigid in any case!
- Waterproof garments with a membrane such as When digging, Gore-Tex takes full advantage of sitting and lying in the snow for hours
- A bivouac sack or an emergency blanket is recommended as a bedding for the mattress you have brought with you. One should always carry one of both with ski touring anyway
- If your ski liner is wet, you can stuff it into your sleeping bag so that it dries a bit and is warm instead of frozen in the morning when you put it on
- For further order in the interior you can also insert the avalanche probe horizontally into the wall and convert it into a clothesline!
- The better the trough is at the entrance, the sooner you can reach pleasant temperatures even on a freezing cold night