How to Make a Small Snow Fort
Most likely you and your family have likely been stuck in the house for the past day or so, waiting for the snow storm to pass. Now it's time to go outside, shovel out the cars and burn off some energy!
Building a snow fort provides a perfect opportunity to breathe some fresh air and bond with friends and family. Read on to learn how to safely build a small snow fort.
What You'll Need
The first and most obvious thing you'll need for your snow fort is snow. The problem is that not all snow is appropriate for a snow fort. Safe fort building snow is:
- Sticky-- Try making a snow ball in your hand. If the snow sticks together and forms a ball, it is likely to hold together for your fort better than loose, powdery snow.
- Settled-- If you have just made a pile of snow, allow it to settle for about 2 hours. I always found a pile of snow made by a plow truck, which make perfect snow forts because they are large and the snow is tightly packed.
You'll also need:
- a digging implement such as a garden trowel or shovel. A regular flat, wide snow shovel isn't the best tool for shaping a small snow fort-- it's too big, and the handle is too long to take it inside the fort and hollow out the main area. Your hands, as long as you have heavy duty waterproof mittens, are often the best digging implements, especially in soft snow.
- proper attire-- see below for "What to Wear."
- hot cocoa and soup waiting inside to warm you up!
What to Wear
It is difficult to dress for outdoor winter activity because most warm clothes that you have on hand are designed to trap heat only-- which makes sense until you begin moving and your body generates a significant amount of its own heat.
For this reason, always dress in layers, and remove a layer before you begin to sweat. If you begin to sweat, your skin layer will become wet, and you'll likely become clammy, cold, and miserable.
Some winter clothing that every New Englander should own:
- Snow/ski Pants-- A pair of water proof snow pants are vital, especially for children who want to play, sit, and lay in the snow.
- Snow Boots-- Warm, water proof winter snow boots are essential. My favorite pairs of snow boots always went up and over my ankles, so that I could secure my snow pants completely over my boots. Snow in your boots is a huge damper on an otherwise fun day.
- Hat/Earmuffs-- As a kid, I hated wearing a hat because I always felt goofy in them. I still feel goofy in hats, but now that I have some sense, I realized that I would rather be warm at the expense of looking goofy! During high amounts of activity, it is to wear earmuffs which cover the ears but still let heat escape from the top of the head. This allows your body to better regulate its own temperature without sweating.
- Gloves/Mittens-- Gloves are good for tasks which require articulation, but mittens are often warmer because all four fingers can share the same warmth. For any snow handling activity (snowball fights, forts, snowmen), thick wool mittens are definitely the best investment you'll ever make. Cheap gloves and mittens found at Walmart and convenient stores are not worth the few dollars you pay for them, because they become sopping wet within minutes.
- Warm Jacket-- A warm, waterproof/windproof jacket is a very handy thing to own. Make sure to wear a few layers beneath it, because you may want to take your jacket off as you warm up.
Avoid cotton if possible, because cotton soaks up moisture from your sweat or from the snow and holds it against your skin. Wool and synthetic moisture wicking materials are the best for any outdoor activity.
Steps for Building the Snow Fort
1) If you don't already have a pile or drift of snow at least 5' high and 6' wide, shovel snow into a pile and let it settle for about two hours.
2) Spray pile with water and/or place depth marker sticks-- see "Construction Tips" below.
3) Choose the entrance to your fort, and begin digging a round hole large enough for you to crawl into.
4) After digging in your entrance about a foot, begin digging a wider area, hollowing not only straight back, but up and to each side. This will create a small room in your cave.
5) Dig as far as you can or would like to. If you have a large enough room, add shelves, chairs, etc. to make your snow fort a home away from home!
- Spray cold water over the pile of snow that will be your fort. This will harden the snow on the outside edges of the pile, making the snow stronger. Don't put any water on the are that will be the entrance to your fort, because the frozen snow may be difficult to dig through.
- Steal from the Romans and construct your fort to last, like the Parthenon. The Parthenon has a domed roof, and the walls are significantly thicker than the roof in order to support the downward force of the dome. Since your pile of snow is likely already a dome, this design should work perfectly!
- As you diligently carve the fort from the inside, it can be difficult to tell when to stop. Wall that are too thin are likely to collapse, and a roof that is too thick can also cause a collapse. Before you begin, find a few sticks and beak them to approximately 1'. Push the sticks in through the outside of the fort, and use them as depth markers as you carve out the inside of the cave.
Warnings and Safety Considerations
- Never enter the snow fort without someone else around. If the snow ever collapsed, it could be impossible for you to work your way out or call for help.
- Dogs love to come outside and play in the snow with us, but they may exuberantly jump on top of the snow fort and ruin it. This is not only disappointing, but potentially dangerous if someone happens to be in the fort.
- Watch for frost nip, the first stage of frost bite. Very cold or windy days could pose a potential frost bite risk to exposed skin.
Stay safe and enjoy the snow!!