Saturday, November 12, 2011


How to Make a Snow Trench Shelter
By L. Pantenburg

It was just supposed to be a quick, hour or so outing on cross-country skis. The day was beautiful; you got into the ground-covering groove and ended up going a lot further than planned. Didn’t pay much attention to the clouds coming over the mountains… Then, without much warning at all, Mother Nature shows her other side and turns vicious and deadly.

STOP, then look around to find an area out of the wind. The area on the right is probably the most sheltered.

The sky darkens, the wind starts to blow, and there’s that awful, sinking feeling that, somehow, you have really screwed up. The wind increases, blowing snow sideways and viability drops to nothing. You must do something immediately, because it will be only a few minutes before the full force of the storm hits.

You start to panic. Maybe the best plan is to turn and ski as fast as possible back toward your car….wherever that is…

Before you do anything: STOP (Stop, Think, Observe, Plan). Get off your feet, and calm down. Control the urge to act hastily. Accept the reality of the situation: you can’t possibly outrun the storm. You must make a shelter, quickly.

Here’s how to make a quick snow trench shelter with a tarp. You will need a tarp or quilted Space Blanket with corner grommets, Texsport Blue Reinforced Rip-Stop Polyethylene Tarps, a small snow shovel, Black Diamond Deploy 7 Shovel, an insulated backpacking sleeping pad, Stansport Pack-Lite Camping Pad, bright flagging Flagging Tape 1-3/16″ wide, Solid Colors, 14 to choose from and a signal whistle. Fox 40 Micro 2 pack.

(All these items are essential if you are recreating in snowy back country.) If you work effectively, it should take about five minutes to make a trench shelter that can save your life.

Here’s what to do when you’ve calmed down and can focus on the task at hand. Look around and decide where the wind is coming from. Find a snow drift, tree, thicket, terrain feature etc. to get out of the wind. You want to be on the lee (downwind) side of any windbreak where the least wind is.You’ll be able tell where that is by the depression, or the snowdrift in front of it.

If the snow is compacted, you may be able to cut blocks, speeding up the excavation.

Dig a trench, about waist deep, two-to-three feet wide, and six feet long. The entrance should be on the downwind side so the wind doesn’t blow directly into the shelter.

Place skis and poles over the trench, then cover with the tarp. Stretch out the tarp on top of the skis and poles, and then shovel snow on all the edges to keep the covering from blowing off.

Tie long streamers of flagging to trees around the shelter so it is easily visible.

Get inside the trench, and hold your whistle in your hand.

Rescuers may be on snowmobiles, and may have difficulty hearing shouting over the wind, engine noise, two-way radio headsets and helmet liners. So, as soon as you hear engines, start blowing on your whistle, and keep blowing. The universal signal for distress is three spaced whistles. If you left a detailed note before you took off on the trip, your survival emergency should be over soon.


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