Ice paradise

By on September 28, 2010
No matter where in the world, if there’s snow, there are people building snow shelters. From the beautifully illuminated kamakura snow huts of Japan to the improvised snow caves of alpinists forced to stay overnight in the elements, the insulating quality of snow is well-known.  The most famous snow shelters, though, are of course the igloos made by the Inuit.

Traditional igloos were built using only a large knife to chop hardened snow into blocks and shaping them to fit.  Easier said than done!  Fortunately, there’s another way: the outdoor education pros at English Adventure have discovered a set of tools and techniques that allow a real igloo to be built in less than a day, and are introducing them to Japan for the first time.

Developed by an inventive American outdoorsman, the ICEBOX is an ingenious tool that lets you build an igloo in snow of any depth and quality – wet and sticky, dry and crumbly; it doesn’t matter. Snow is packed into a box-like form to create a solid block.  After releasing the block, guides on the ICEBOX move it into position for the next block, guaranteeing the perfect shape for a strong and stable igloo.

This spring, several English Adventure leaders headed for the mountains in search of late-season snow to test the ICEBOX.  Along with their adult crew, their program manager Jeff Jensen’s ten-year-old daughter Kona was present there as a kid tester.  Some of them had experience with other snow shelters but were complete beginners to igloo-building.

They started by stomping down snow to create a stable and level base.  After that, the collapsible ICEBOX was quickly assembled and they got to work.  Dividing into snow gatherers and form packers, they all cooperated to release the blocks and move the form to the next position without damaging the completed work.  Block by block, they circled around, and soon one row became two, then three.  The igloo was taking shape!

Amazingly, the final block was in place about four hours after they started.  Kona got the honor of going in first, but everyone else could hardly wait for their own turn to crawl inside their igloo. Inside, it was astonishing how bright it was: although the walls were twenty centimeters thick, they were translucent and allowed plenty of light inside.  Also, the igloo was quiet, with no wind or voices carried in from outside.  One disadvantage of tents in extreme conditions is that the flapping fabric and the howling wind can make for a restless night.  The igloo was a cozy cocoon in comparison.  The thick walls also account for an igloo’s warmth, comfortable even in subfreezing climates.
Once the igloo’s interior was admired, it was time to stress test it!  One of the crew climbed onto the roof, which easily supported his ninety kilos.  Getting braver, he hopped up and down, but even this was no problem.  To think, the only thing holding him was a twenty-centimeter slab of snow!  This surprising strength is thanks to the principle of the catenary curve, an ideal form found in cathedrals and other arched constructions, capable of supporting its own weight without collapse.  The ICEBOX ensures that the igloo has a perfect catenary shape, so everyone can relax inside the igloo with complete confidence in its safety.

Without a doubt, this was a winning activity for English Adventure’s winter Snow Camps.  Its camp pros are right there with the kids, helping them build; and constant English discussion is absolutely critical to success. There’s simply nothing that requires so much communication and teamwork yet offers so much fun!

This unique activity is something that must be experienced by as many kids in Japan as possible. This winter, let English Adventure help your child discover that the outdoors are a place of fun and learning all year round!

English Adventure Snow Camp runs from December 26-29 in Minakami, Gunma.  Along with igloo-building, kids will go snowshoeing, learn about nature in winter and more, all in English.

Registration is limited to 50 children, and Early Bird pricing is available until Friday, November 5.  For details, visit:

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