How To Build A Snow Cave

Snow caves are fun to build and provide warm places to sleep and take shelter from a storm. This is a brief how-to guide to building a snow cave.

The snow cave in this example was built by 4 people near Skinner Hut at the edge of the timberline in late-December 2015 at 11,620 feet. Builders were Brett Poulin, Chris, Nick, and me, Neal Mueller. The cave we built was large enough to sleep and provide eating quarters and shelter for 4 people. It included a vapor escape for cooking.

Step 1. Find snow drift, not cornice. We found our snow drift nearby Skinner Hut at 11,620 feet in Colorado. It had a gorgeous view and was large enough for the snow cave.

snow drift

Step 2. Use shovel or hoe to excavate snow cave. It helps to have just one-person inside and a team outside to ferry loads of snow away from the entrance. TIME: Our snow cave took 4 athletic people about 2 hours to excavate.

Step 3. Use snow saw to create snow cave benches or sleeping bunks, save blocks. Keep the bunks above the height of the door entrance, or allow for a heat pocket. Heat rises. TIME: Our snow cave took 4 athletic people about 1 hour to deepen.

Step 4. Use snow saw to raise ceiling height of snow cave, save blocks. TIME: Our snow cave took 4 athletic people about 1 hour to raise the ceiling.

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 11.30.20 AM

Step 5. Line and narrow snow cave entrance with sawed blocks. TIME: Our snow cave took 4 athletic people about 1 hour to narrow the entrance and finalize.

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That’s it. You’re done. Now you can use snow cave for shelter or fun. Below are photos of our snow cave as it was excavated. Remember to keep a shovel inside the cave, in case you get snowed in.

The snow cave pictured above was my second snow cave.

My first snow cave was at 15,000 feet just above the head-wall on Mt. Denali with Mike Wood, Jed Workman, and Evan Howe of AMS. Here’s a picture of that snow cave. You can see me in the far back, second from the left.


Here is a snow cave diagram (book source).

Snow cave diagram

Have fun. Stay warm.

Published by Neal Mueller