Edmonton dad embraces winter and builds massive living-room-sized igloo in his family’s backyard

This week, Western Canada is in the midst of an extremely cold winter vortex that’s keeping most of us indoors. Temperatures are diving as low as -51 C with wind chill in Saskatoon. But a snowpocalypse isn’t keeping one Canadian dad from inspiring all of us with a creative winter project in his own backyard.

Igloos are temporary snow huts historically tied to the Inuit peoples who craft them out of hard-packed snow. Chris Schrettlinger of Edmonton, Alberta started building ice igloos for his family last winter.

The album of his cold-weather creation has reached over a million people so far. There were many comments from across North America asking how he did it. So today, he shared how it’s done so that you can build your own backyard winter hangout, too.

All photos via Chris Schrettlinger

Why did you start making ice igloos?

“When you get older there’s not a whole lot of fun in winter anymore. It’s miserable to drive to work. But my three young kids aren’t bothered by the cold.

I was so sick of being inside dreading the cold. I remembered the forts we tried to build when I was a kid that never really worked out. And I saw someone make something similar on Reddit years ago. So I made a small one last year and then decided to make a bigger one this year.

Our Edmonton winters haven’t been as bad as they were in the past and there hasn’t been a lot of snow. You would need a massive amount of snow to make a proper igloo. We don’t have that hard packed snow to make that style.”

How many hours of labour did it take to complete it?

“I started freezing the ice five weeks ago at the beginning of December. It took about an hour or two at night on working days and about five or six hours on weekends. I’d say it took about 100 hours total. Just making the ice takes a lot of time.

The last time it was -36 C they froze in a few hours. It usually takes two days to freeze. And it needs the time to set in between the rows, so you can’t finish it with friends that help in a day. If I could sit on the edges of it, I’d start the next row.

It’s a time-intensive project. The kids get stuck with hauling all of the ice bricks over the backyard. I put a spotlight up and work at night until midnight.

I get obsessed with the project. My only caution is that it’s going to take a while. And you will get slightly depressed at least a few times. “

Do you have experience working outdoors during the winter?

“I try to get outside and go to the rink or skiing. It’s hard to find a reason to go outside when it’s so cold. And I’ve built fences and such in the past.”

How big is the final ice igloo of 2020?

“It’s 16 feet across and seven feet high at its tallest point. There are about 300 ice blocks. The bottom row is 56 blocks. It can probably fit 10 adults in there. It’s taller than the fence. If you walk down the alley, you’ll see it. I’m the only guy that has a canopy of lights and a massive igloo in the backyard. “

What do you use to stick the blocks together?

“You mix a mortar-consistency slush in a large plastic tub full of snow with about 20 litres of water.”

How were you able to work in -30 C weather?

“Many, many layers of clothes. Long underwear, two pairs of sweatpants, snow pants, -50 boots, a parka, toque, and four layers of work gloves. I change gloves every 20 minutes. I have a surplus of gloves.”

What kind of pans do you use to freeze the ice blocks?

“Disposable lasagna trays you get at any supermarket. It cost us about $50 in supplies from The Wholesale Club.”

I’m guessing you use food colouring to make the colours. Is that correct?

“Yes. The food colouring is already in the tins. My wife runs a hose out the basement window and I fill up all of the tins with water. I don’t bother mixing the food colouring and water beforehand.”

How long do you hope it will last?

“Last winter, it was melting during the first week in March.  You could see the mortar start to melt. Then a huge section fell in and collapsed.”

Did your family make igloos when you were a kid?

“I always made forts in the snow with my friends. I had two sisters and didn’t want to hang out with them all the time. And I made another massive snow fort during a few slow days at work when I was 24.”

Any plans for 2021’s ice igloo?

“No plans for next year. Usually by the time it’s done, I don’t want to think about it for a long time. Around September to October, I’ll start thinking about it again. “

What kind of impression do you hope building the igloo will leave on your kids?

“Don’t be scared of winter and the cold. I want them to be the envy of their friends and classmates and remember having fun with their dad. I hope they appreciate all the time I spent out there. ”

Have you been hanging out in it during this cold snap?

“We’ve been out there this week. I tried to put a propane fire inside, but it’s too hot and the air is too cold. The ice was starting to crack.

I’m planning a weekend camp out in it, but the ice is a terrible insulator. We’ll dress really warm. If it’s -35 C outside, it’s -30 C in there. I have to research what to do to insulate it properly.”

It’s easy to feel miserable when the mercury dips to extremely low levels. Chris has inspired everyone to see the positive side of our cold prairie winters with his massive ice igloo of 2020. Thank you for sharing your creation with Do Sask!

How are you embracing the extreme cold weather this winter? Join the Do Sask Facebook Group to have your say in the discussion.