Norgesguidene's tips for spending the night in a snowhole

Spending the night in a snowhole is an awesome outdoor experience we would recommend to everyone! If you do it properly, it's not just a comfortable way of spending the night, it also provides an extra sense of security if you become weather bound in the winter mountains. Norgesguidene are experienced and certified mountain guides. Read their expert tips before picking up your spade.

A good snowhole will provide you with a comfortable night's sleep even if the wind is blowing and it's cold outside. Inside the snowhole you will be sheltered and the temperature will be around 0°C. If you have to dig yourself in because of wind and bad weather, after a short while you will have dug far enough into the snow to be protected from the inclement weather while you're working.

How do you find a good spot to dig a snowhole?
The most important factor is that you find a safe location that is not exposed to avalanches. The snowdrift or ground you are digging in should not be higher than 5 meters. You will then be safe. Even if there is minimal snow in the terrain, the wind will shift the snow and leave it in snowdrifts. Look at the map and try to find snowdrifts with snowhole potential in creek valleys or on the leeside behind hills and mounds. To check that there is sufficient snow to dig a hole, you should have an avalanche probe. Insert the probe horizontally into the snow. If there is 2.5 meters of snow, this is sufficient but preferably find a spot with 3 meters of snow, or more, as this will make digging easier.

This is how you dig
Dress well when you are digging and work at an even pace without sweating. If you are wearing sufficient clothing, your shell jacket won't become heated by your body temperature and you will avoid the snow melting on you. You will then stay dry. A good tip is to have a small clothes brush (for example, a shortened washing-up brush) in your pocket that you can use to brush all the snow off yourself when you take a break and when you are finished.

  1. You should start by digging an entranceway high enough to permit you to stand up and work.

  2. When you have reached the point where the walls and ceiling are sufficiently thick, you can begin to dig a sleeping place.

  3. The ceiling and walls should have a minimum thickness of 60 cm. To stay warm inside the snowhole, you must make an entrance with a heat trap, i.e. the bunk you are sleeping on must be higher than the uppermost part of the entrance. However, you can now start digging at "belt height" to save work.
  4. Once you have finished digging the snowhole, you then reseal the uppermost part of the entrance with blocks of snow. Make a large block that you can lay across the entrance so that there is room to crawl under it in order to build a wall of smaller blocks on top to seal it. If you are unable extract a large block, you can use your skis as support instead of a large block.

Why a dome ceiling?
Once the snowhole is ready it should have a dome-shaped ceiling. A dome is a solid structure that will ensure the ceiling does not cave in. It is important to take care to smooth out the ceiling to ensure it contains no dents or protruding lumps of snow. If the temperature in the snowhole rises above 0°C, such protrusions will begin to drip but if you have made the ceiling completely smooth the snow will retain its moisture.

The snowhole must not be too large. Even if the dome shape is solid, the ceiling could cave in during the night if you have made the snowhole too big. A snowhole with sufficient sleeping places for 3 people is usually perfect. If you want a warm night's sleep, you shouldn't make the ceiling too high, either. This is because there will be more air that will need to be heated. However, to ensure that sleeping in the snowhole is comfortable, everyone should have the possibility of sitting up without the ceiling touching their head. It is also important that there is sufficient space to ensure that no one is forced out to the edge of the snow as the sleeping bag will quickly become wet, resulting in a cold night.

Never use a stove!
It is also EXTREMELY IMPORTANT to never use a stove inside the snowhole. Cooking equipment always emits a little CO (carbon monoxide) and, with defective combustion – which can easily occur – the equipment will emit a lot of CO. CO is a gas that is lethal in large volumes and which the body uses a long time to get rid of.

Before you go to bed
If there is sufficient snow in the terrain to dig a snowhole, this means that more snow can quickly be blown into the same location. Thus, the entrance to the snowhole can become sealed again by snow during the night. This is not dangerous as there is more than enough oxygen in the snow to permit you to remain in the snowhole as long as you wish. However, if you have not taken a spade with you into the hole, you may have a problem. You should therefore always remember to take the spades with you into the snowhole so that you can dig yourself out again if necessary.

Using old snowholes
Can I sleep in an old snowhole that others have slept in before me? Of course you can. But what happens most often when you sleep in a snowhole is that body warmth melts the innermost part of the ceiling and when you move out and the air is cooled, a film of ice is formed. This could mean that sufficient air will not be emitted from the snow and into the hole. Therefore, if you are going to take over an old snowhole, you should take the spade and scrape around 5 cm from the ceiling. Then the snowhole will be as good as new again. You should also do this if you use the snowhole several days in a row and take trips during the daytime.

If you require practical guidance in how to dig a snowhole, please don't hesitate to contact us at Norgesguidene via email:

Happy snowholing!

Best wishes, Norgesguidene