Home, sweet igloo in Carroll

Shelter: Three teachers put all that snow in the back yard to a novel use for this region.

The Snowstorm Of 2003

February 20, 2003|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Many Marylanders might have had a hard time figuring out what to do with all the snow that fell during the big storm, but Brendan Maloney didn't. He drew a circle in the middle of his back yard, and with the help of two friends he began shoveling snow into it.

And there, in the heart of a Westminster neighborhood, they built an igloo.

To Maloney, a Winters Mill High School teacher who as a college student away on an outdoors leadership program once lived for 18 days in an igloo, a 2-foot snowfall was an opportunity too good to pass up.

"You make the most of it," said Maloney, who recruited his housemate, Steven Kronberg, a North Carroll Middle School teacher, and their neighbor, Westminster High School English teacher Mary Beth Francis, to join in. "My argument to them was, `When is the next time you'll be able to make a snow shelter in Maryland?'"

Francis was game.

"If you get a blizzard like this, you have to do something," said Francis, 27. "Before, my great story was of taking an hour to get over the hill at Western Maryland College in 1996, but now it's the hut."

The hut, as she termed the white, lumpy dome, is to Maloney a "quigloo" - part quinzhee (the Inuit word for snow shelter), part igloo (because it has ice blocks like the shelters of Eskimo fame).

Designed, just as those in the north are, to use snow and ice for warmth, the Westminster version may, however, be the only such dwelling to be outfitted with a television. The reception wasn't all that good yesterday, but the cinnamon rolls and hot coffee helped make up for that deficiency.

The idea came to Maloney, 29, on Monday when he realized there was enough snow to build an igloo.

"Everyone else was shoveling out their cars, and we're shoveling this big pile," Kronberg said.

He and his friends started about noon that day and worked for three hours, piling snow in his back yard on Green Street. After building it up 2 feet, they would compact the pile with shovels and feet and sometimes round plastic sleds. Then they would pile another 2 feet on and repeat. They continued doing this until the mound grew to more than 6 feet high and about 12 feet in diameter.

"Piling was the most frustrating thing," said Kronberg, 28. "It was really strenuous work, and Mary Beth and I weren't in the right clothes - we got cold and wet. And once you thaw out inside on a break, it's a challenge to come back outside."

But they rallied. Every now and then, they stuck broomsticks into the sides to measure the thickness of the walls, which they wanted to keep at about a foot and a half. "The snow will bond and become really hard like concrete," Maloney said. Their structure hardened overnight - but not so hard that they couldn't hollow it out.

On Tuesday, they took turns tunneling to the center of the mound from the top and the base.

"I felt like I was mining out a cave," Kronberg said. He went in through the base and toward the center of their pile. "It was dark, and a lot of weight was on top of me. I kept telling Brendan to call my name every minute. I didn't consider myself claustrophobic, but I was, being in here. I was worried it was going to collapse."

Maloney reassured him the whole time, saying that if the pile were going to collapse it would've done so by then. He knew this because seven years ago, while a junior at Towson University, he had helped build four igloos at a National Outdoor Leadership School course called a Semester in the Rockies. While he was in Wyoming on his wilderness adventure, 12 feet of snow fell in 18 days, he said.

Hefting the mounds of snow this week was in some ways familiar, in other ways a little different, he said.

"When I was 22 this didn't hurt so much," Maloney said.

Still, the work was satisfying.

"Digging has instant results," Maloney said. "You see progress."

As they dug further into the mound from the base, two of them could fit inside and work from there, speeding the process. They created ice blocks to cap the hole at the top - the igloo part of the quigloo. Those blocks helped keep the igloo well insulated.

"It's plenty warm inside," Maloney said. "Most people don't know that the snow is actually an insulator."

But with each day the temperature warms up, their quigloo sags at least a foot. When it was completed Tuesday, the ceiling was about 4 1/2 feet high. A day later, it was down to 3. The more they're inside, with their body heat, the faster it melts.

"It's a losing battle. These things usually can last five days in drier and colder conditions," Maloney said. "But here, they have a shelf life of three days - if you don't sleep in it."

Atticus, Maloney's black Lab, sped up the erosion by eating out some of the walls before being admonished by his owner. Atticus was a frequent visitor, often frolicking on the roof.

Maloney and Kronberg are in their third year of teaching and will use the experience in class. "When I teach about Native American history and igloos, my kids think it's a joke," Kronberg said. "This way I can show them this is how people live."

They have, however, brought a few modern comforts.

The three ran an extension cord from the house through a small hole in the structure to power a lamp. And they lined the floor with several foam camping mats and a black fleece blanket.

Francis baked cinnamon rolls.

And yesterday Kronberg set up a television: "If we knew this would last the week, I would've hooked up the cable."

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