Pictured above: Susan Alt and Austin Shafer of Eau Claire, WI inside the igloo they helped build.
Husband and wife entrepreneurs Ashley and Grant Schnell have been making ski pulks in their shop in rural St. Stephen, MN since 2011. These pull-behind sleds with rigid poles have traveled the world, literally, behind arctic explorers, winter fatbike campers and parents pulling their kids through the snow for fun. SkiPulk.com makes seven different models and sells components and parts so you can make your own with their free instructions. Read about a fatbike winter camping trip with a pulk
Recently, the pair has begun offering a versatile, new tool for making your own igloo with snow. It’s designed to be a serious, lightweight piece of backcountry equipment that can eliminate the need for a tent on expeditions, but it can also provide a couple of hours of backyard fun with the kids. Grant happened to have some time to show the Trails team how the Ice Box Igloo Tool works and we put it to the test with some very marginal, crusty snow on a sunny afternoon in February.
The tool is, in essence, a three-sided box on an adjustable pole attached to a center pivot. The form handler in the center of the igloo circle dials in the diameter of the igloo, anywhere from seven to eleven feet, and moves the form along in a spiral pattern as the shovelers fill the form with snow. As they go up, they adjust the length and pitch of the pole to make the circle ever tighter and form that familiar dome shape. Eventually, the form handler will duck into the structure and steady the now upright pole as the shovelers put on the final shovels of snow to cap off the igloo. If you do it right, you have a fully functioning, self-supporting dome. The form handler will cut their way out, creating the door.
Site preparation is key and you need to stomp down a circle to provide a solid base. We were able to skip that step because recent rains had created a two-foot-thick layer of snow that was so crusty even the heaviest of us couldn’t make much of an imprint. This was good, but created another potential issue, bad snow consistency. Grant said the tool actually works best with fresh powder snow, but is designed to be used with all grades of snow. We had the worst kind for this sort of thing. Under the crust, we found small-grain corn snow that did not pack much at all in our hands, almost like glass beads. Luckily, the strong February sun softened up the top layer enough after a while, that we could scrape the soft snow off. We were in business. Start to finish it took the five of us about 90 minutes to make a seven-foot igloo, with Grant expertly handling the form.
We had no volunteers to stay in the igloo overnight, but it is a legit structure for winter camping. According to Grant, two peoples’ body heat alone can raise the temperature inside the igloo into the 20s on a zero-degree night. We had temperatures in the teens that night and when I checked on the igloo the next day it had set up rock hard. We’ll keep an eye on it throughout what’s left of this season. Maybe I’ll take one for the team and sleep out there some time.
Check out the Ice Box Igloo Tool on SkiPulk.com