A snowhouse was a domed building made from blocks of snow and ice.[1] They were the primary type of construction used by the Ulutiun[1][2][3] peoples for their homes. Iulutiuns lived in snowhouses almost exclusively.[1] Angulutiuns sometimes lived in temporary tent structures,[2] while Nakulutiuns sometimes built stone homes.[3] The Innugaakalikurit dwarves also constructed snowhouses.[4]


Snowhouses came in a large variety of configurations. The simplest consisted of a single dome with an entry tunnel. Such a small house, with about a ten-foot diameter, could be used to sleep four or five and was typical for a guest house or temporary structure for hunters away from their village.[1]

Permanent homes were more likely to contain several domes connected by tunnels.[1]

Floor PlansEdit

Snowhouse, single-family

The floor plan of a single-family snowhouse.

Snowhouse, single-family, side view

A side-view diagram of a single-family snowhouse.

Snowhouse, two-family

The floor plan of a two-family snowhouse.

Toqsung (1) 
The entryway to a complex snowhouse was called a toqsung. It was composed of three parts and protected the snowhouse from the cold:
Kaquling (2): This was a snow tunnel built at an angle. In the region of Alpuk, for example, a kaquling usually opened to the west or east, since most winds blew from the north or south.[1]
Uadiling (3): The kaquling connected to a small, six-foot-tall dome, called an uadiling, which served as an entry chamber. It had two doors, each about three feet high.[1]
Igdluling (4): This final tunnel connected the uadiling to the main home. Larger snowhouses contained separate igdluling from a central uadiling to the lulik of separate families.[1]
Lulik (5) 
The main chamber of the snowhouse was typically twelve feet in diameter and could house a family of six comfortably. Larger snowhouses had multiple lulik, all connected to the central uadiling by igdluling like spokes on a wheel.[1]
Sirdloang (6) 
A sirdloang was an exterior closet attached to the outside of the uadiling and igdluling. It was used to store clothing and harnesses.[1]
Igdluarn (7) 
An internally accessible closet used to store meat and blubber was attached to the lulik.[1]
Andlitiving (8) 
This was a larger crawl-in closet also attached to the lulik and used to store meat long term.[1]


A hole, one inch in radius, called a quangirin was drilled into the ceiling of a lulik. A fur plug was set up such that the quangirin could be opened for ventilation if a stove or lamps were being used and closed to conserve heat.[1]

The walls of a lulik were covered in a lining of seal or caribou skin, fastened with sharp bones that punctured all the way to the outside of the snowhouse, where they were knotted in place with leather. This lining of skin was called the ilupiquan and provided further insulation. It also prevented candles and stoves from melting the walls.[1]

If the ilupiquan was taken down temporarily, enough sunlight could pass through the ice walls of the snowhouse to provide daytime illumination, even on cloudy days. At night, the light from a full moon could also pass through the walls. Otherwise, a single candle or lamp was all that was needed to light the lulik, since glazed ice was so reflective.[1]

Beyond this, some added windows of lake ice to their houses. Such windows needed to be a couple inches thick to maintain insulation. Extra windows could be stored in the sirdloang.[1]

A platform of snow blocks piled to be higher than the top of the entryway served as a sleeping platform. Two layers of deer or caribou skins were set out fur-side down. This prevented a sleeper's body heat from melting the ice. A bed of deer- or caribou-skin blankets kept the family warm at night.[1]

A luxury furnishing was a fireplace, called a quidlirin. It was a luxury, because stones were scarce. A quidlirin was built with a stone base and a framework of wood or bone. Blubber was burned on the stones, which heated kettles or pots hung from the framework. Wet clothes could be dried over the quidlirin by using a bone loop of leather straps, called an intang.[1]

With a quidlirin, a snowhouse could easily be kept 50 to 60 degrees warmer than the temperature outside. On the sleeping platform or near the ceiling, the temperature could be as much as 100 degrees warmer than outside.[1]


Before building, a suitable snowbank for the purpose was required. The snow could not be too hard to cut or too soft to stack. Most good snow was found on flat terrain with at least four feet of snow drift no more than a few weeks old. Older snow was usually too hard to cut, having been frozen into solid ice by the winds. Snow falling in very cold temperatures was too grainy too stick together and also unsuitable.[1]

The builders identified a good patch of snow by stepping on it. If it left footprints more than an inch deep, it was too soft; if it left no footprints at all, it was too hard. After this, a rod or staff would be inserted. Ideally, this instrument would easily be driven four feet deep. If it could not be sunk this deep, it implied that the snow contained layers and would not be useful after all.[1]

A typical snowhouse required a team of four workers to build, although as few as two could build one with some extra difficulty. Four tasks were assigned, those of the "cutter", the "carrier", the "builder", and the "packer".[1]

The cutter would carve blocks of snow,[1] using an iuak.[5] Two parallel pairs of cuts would be made a foot and a half deep each in the snow drift to form a rectangular block about three feet by one and a half feet by one foot. The sides of the block were made at a slight angle so that the cutter could lift the brick out of the bank. Such a block could weigh anywhere from 50 to 100 pounds. If it fell apart when carried, it was not a good snow brick and had to be abandoned. After removing the block, the cutter would smooth and straighten its sides using the iuak blade.[1]

The carrier would ferry the ice blocks from the cutting site to the building site and pass them off to the builder.[1]

The builder would set the first tier of blocks in a circle, on a flat surface of snow. Some builders used a pole placed in the center of the site with a string tied to it to ensure a true circle with a fixed radius. A single block was skipped to make a temporary door. The builder propped the blocks against each other, adding brick after brick, tier after tier, in a tightening spiral, with each tier slightly overhanging, until finishing by wedging two blocks in the hole at the top of the dome.[1]

While the builder laid snow bricks, the packer filled in all gaps with snow and packed it down. Within ten minutes, the freezing snow would create a solid wall.[1]

When the dome was complete, they would shovel snow onto the dome so that it would flow down the outer surface, until the dome was three feet thick.[1]

Next, they would build an entry. First, a worker would squeeze through the temporary, one-brick-thick opening. The worker inside would dig down and make a five-foot-wide trench inside; a worker outside would dig a trench toward the opening. The temporary opening would then be plugged. Finally, an arched tunnel of snow would be build over the outside trench.[1]

As a last step, a fire would be lit inside the dome, warming it until the walls began to melt. The fire would be extinguished, allowing the walls to refreeze, forming a glaze of ice for better insulation and structural stability.[1]

It took a team of four about three hours to build a single-domed snowhouse. Except in unusual years with summer temperatures rising above freezing, a well-built snowhouse could last up to three years.[1]


This was a pit trap built to look like a snowhouse.[6]
This was a massive snow dome up to 20 feet tall and over 20 feet in diameter used as a feast house.[1]
This was a special snowhouse for sled dogs or kupuk.[7]
This was a two-domed snowhouse filled with pits for burning blubber.[7]
This ten-foot-diameter dome served as a butchering house.[1]


The Iulutiuns developed the technology for building snowhouses over centuries. They were driven to do so, in part, because of the lack of practical roofing materials on the Great Glacier.[1]


External ReferencesEdit



Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.