Words by Chuck Tanner. Images courtesy of Ed Hausers.
No one knows igloos better than Ed Hausers, or, as he’s known to his peers, Igloo Ed.
The Colorado native estimates he’s constructed over 300 igloos in his time, everywhere from the backcountries of Montana and Minnesota to the urban confines of New York’s Central Park and Rockefeller Center.
Hausers’ interest in igloos dates back to the mid-1970s, when he moved to Colorado from North Dakota. An avid climber, he fell in love with Rocky Mountain National Park, especially the world-famous Chaos Canyon. “I spent a lot of my time there, living in a tent and bouldering and mountaineering,” he recalls. “Still do; it’s a world class destination for climbers.”
But living in a tent, especially in the cold weather, wasn’t cutting it. So, Hauser and his climbing buddies experimented with different winter camping setups. Their first discovery was the snow cave, which was warmer, quieter and sturdier than a tent. For the next couple of decades, they built one every season as a base of operations for their alpine activities. Problem was that snow caves can only be built in very deep snowdrifts or under large boulders, making them highly inflexible. “We got tired of staying in the canyon,” recalls Hausers. “You couldn’t go climbing wherever, whenever you want without fear of getting stranded out in the cold.” They also require a lot of work to build and maintain.
“We needed something more flexible, a self-supporting structure that we could build anywhere,” recalls Hauser. They needed an igloo.
You’d think an igloo would be uncomfortable and cold since it’s made of snow and ice, but you’d be wrong. Hausers says that tightly packed snow makes for an excellent insulator. “Temperature inside an igloo doesn’t rise much above 38 degrees, but an occupant’s body heat keeps it from going much below freezing, too. “In Colorado, where the temp at night can fall to minus 26 degrees, that’s warm,” chuckles the igloo master.
So, the climber began building igloos in 1997. “It let us go anywhere there was snow,” says Hauser. “Recently, I went to the Wind River Range with Scotsman Chris Townsend, an internationally recognized rough-terrain hiker and author of 20 hiking, climbing and mountaineering books. We were out for 10 nights and stayed at three different igloo sites. Moving around gave a spectacular view of the area.”
A machinist and plastic-mold maker by trade, Hausers decided to take his obsession with igloos to the next level in 1998. He and his partner, Guy Menge, invented the Icebox, a device that can make perfectly sculpted igloos with any snow. “Traditional igloos are made with blocks of hardened snow cut from beneath the top powder layer,” explains Hausers. “Powder is not easily made into sturdy blocks. The Icebox allows you to make perfect blocks every time using any kind of snow, making building an igloo much easier.”
So, how do you build an igloo? Here’s how Igloo Ed does it.
Step 1: Find a suitable spot.
“First, there has to be a lot of snow,” says Hausers. Knee deep or better.
Step 2: Make sure to use the right snow.
“Use the dense stuff below the powder, starting at the point your feet stop sinking,” says Hausers. Alternatively, you can pack down mounds of snow, let them harden and, then you can cut blocks from those piles of snow.
Step 3: Draw a circle in the snow.
Remember using a compass in grade school? Jam a stick vertically in the center of where you want the igloo to be located. Tie a rope to it that’s half the diameter of the structure you want to build (igloos shouldn’t safely be more than 10 feet across). Use the end of the rope to mark your circle.
Step 4: Start digging.
Hollow out the inside of the circle. Don’t go deeper than three feet. It’ll look like a “hot tub” in the snow. This is where you and your compadres will sleep. Make it as level as possible.
Step 5: Shape your blocks. (And do it correctly.)
Don’t shape your blocks to be perfect rectangles. Because you’re aiming to create a dome, the blocks should all be a similar size with tops angled slightly inward.
Step 6: Stack the blocks, so they spiral upwards in a continuous coil.
Start laying your blocks around the circle. Leave a small vent hole in the top for circulation.
Step 7: Keep the interior wall smooth.
“This allows moisture to run down the side of the wall, instead of dripping from the ceiling,” says Hausers. “Plus, you want to patch any holes to keep air from coming through it.”
Step 8: Make a doorway.
One that will keep out the cold and retain heat without having to block the entryway with a slab of ice. (Think cold air sinks, heat rises.) “Ideally, [the entrance] should be about 18 inches lower than the igloo floor, and tunnel below the wall into the igloo,” says Hausers.