What happens in the snow cave, stays in the snow cave.
Words :: Bianca Adolf Illustration :: Dave Barnes
For some, spending the night burrowed into the side of a snowy mountain is the stuff of nightmares. But for real backcountry freaks it can be quite the opposite—let’s call it an “opportunity”. An opportunity to kick off those ski boots, unzip those bib pants, and get to know that special ski partner of yours a bit better.
When it comes to snow cave romance, there are more options than you can shake your probe at. If you’re more of a “quickie” type, opt for a traditional snow cave dug into an inclined slope. There’s still enough shoveling to get you warmed up and limber, but it’s substantially less work to construct than a flatland quinzee, which will take hours of heaping and hollowing snow (does shoveling count as foreplay?).
The third option, best suited for those who like things a bit rough (and by “rough” I mean tree bark), is to capitalize on what is already there and get down in a tree well. Certainly, as mountain travelers we are taught to regard tree wells with great fear and loathing, but go down there with a clear mission and you can really come to love them. Not to mention they smell great, which for those of us who love to play outside is quite the aphrodisiac.
Okay, you’ve selected the suitable shelter, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. As with any outdoor adventure, a successful trip always begins with a gear list. Think beyond the standard holy trio (shovel, probe, transceiver). To start, wear your sexiest base layer. We’re not talking synthetics here, you want the real deal—merino wool, aka: mountain lace. Once the GORE-TEX® comes off, that backcountry lingerie will do a great job accenting every big beautiful muscle sculpted by miles of slogging through snow. It’s stain and odour resistant too, just sayin’.
Next up—socks. Choose wisely, because let’s face it, these may be staying on all night. Finally, if you have any experience at all in the mountains you already know that protection is a must out there: GORE-TEX®, PrimaLoft, Dyneema, and… latex. Tail to tip, make sure you’re covered.
Now let’s make the bed and set the mood. Are your sleeping pads a consistent thickness? Do you and your partner have opposite-side zippers on your mummy bags? This often-overlooked detail is a prerequisite in ski partner selection—we are only as compatible as our equipment, so zip those mummies together!
Candles? Yes please. But stay on point—if you’re going to melt that snow cave we want it to be due to body heat and not the surprisingly flammable qualities of tech gear.
With the mood set and the temperature rising, you two snow bunnies should soon be tangled up like the branches of early season alder. Which brings us to our next subject—positions. Like any day spent in the backcountry, calculated decisions need to be made based on snowpack stability (or in this case ceiling stability) so don’t just send it into corkscrew or some other double black diamond manoeuvre right out of the gate. Start slow and assess the structural integrity with some snow angels. Once your cozy love cave is deemed stable and sufficient, you can pick a line, run it out and get after those cliff drops and face shots.
And there you have it. Everything you need to get out and start knocking ski boots. Just remember, what happens in the snow cave stays in the snow cave. And a true backcountry expert leaves no trace.