You don’t have to have kids—or be a kid—to get a ton of fun out of winter. In fact, lots of so-called kids’ activities can be scaled up so they’re awesome on an adult level, too. Take building a snow fort, for example. You could simply crawl around on the ground and pile up a snow wall, then hide behind it after pitching snowballs at the mailman—or you could go into full-out fort-building beast mode and follow our instructions for literally the best snow fort ever.
These steps will make you a traditional igloo-style structure, big enough to sit in.
Step One: Get good snow
Chances are you’re simply not going to be able to build a solid snow fort if it’s -20 outside. That’s because, in order for snow to stick together, some of its ice crystals need to be able to melt when you pack it together, then refreeze, acting as glue. When it’s too cold, you simply can’t apply enough pressure to get those little suckers to melt—meaning you end up with a cold powdery pile that’s perfect for skiing but not so great for packing. Don’t give up if it’s really cold, though—if you have a lot of snow, you may be able to find stuff that will pack below the surface layer of fluffy stuff.
Step Two: Plot your base
If you want to fit folks in your fort, you need to make the base big enough for people to sit in. To plot out your circle, jam a ski pole or stick where you want the centre, and tie a one-metre rope or string to it, then walk it around. Doing this will give you an accurate circle that’s two metres in diameter (any bigger, and it gets really hard to build the dome). This will be the floorplan for your base.
Step Three: Build some snow blocks
The traditional way to get good building blocks for a snow fort is to cut them straight off the ground with a saw. That’s not always easy, so instead, pack snow into a box to get workable blocks. A blue box works well, as does a plastic box from the grocery store. If the snow is really wet, use a smaller box, since a blue box will get too heavy. If you want to get really technical, spray the inside of the box with a thin layer of cooking spray, which will allow the snow block to slide out easily.
Once you’ve got some blocks made, place a first layer of them around your circle base, and fill in the gaps with snow.
Step Four: Start cutting and layering
Once you have your first level of blocks laid, grab a saw or a long serrated knife, and use it to make a horizontal cut into the tops of your snow blocks, starting with a shallow horizontal cut, and deepening the cut as you turn around, creating a descending spiral. (There’s a good diagram here.) When you’ve cut the first row, start the second row where the first cut ended. This spiral cut makes the dome of the igloo more stable. Make the circumference slightly smaller as you work around the spiral, bevelling the edges so they fit together nicely. You may need to prop layers up with a long stick as you work or, ideally, get a friend to stand inside and hold the blocks while you lay them and pack them with snow.
Step Five: Topping off
Once the walls have been built and the gaps packed with snow, cut a piece of snow that will fit snugly into the top roof hole. This is where having an extra pair of hands will be useful, as your friend can help guide the plug into place from the inside. Cut a hole in the wall for a door, or tunnel out below the wall. Make sure there are air vents, either through the roof or through holes cut in the walls—it’s actually possible to suffocate in an igloo if it’s too tightly sealed.
For a really strong structure, hose down the outside of the igloo so it becomes covered in a layer of ice.
Step Six: Enjoy!
Grab a board game, a guitar, some warm drinks, and go hang out in your new awesome snow fort.