A snow fort worthy of the name has to be something special. A place where kids will want to hang out in until their toes go numb, big enough for the whole gang at once. Ideally, it should have doors and windows (but no worrisome roof), perhaps even a "snofa" where the kids can chill out in style. And while we're dreaming, how about a fridge for juice boxes and a custom snowball firing range? Who could build such a dream house? You can. Grab your gloves, some buckets and shovels, and let us show you how.
Any Way You Slice It
Our snow fort has a classic four-wall design, but the architectural options are as varied as Eskimo words for snow. The walls were constructed wooden-block style from snow bricks. Using a snow shovel, we quarried crude blocks from the surrounding snow cover and placed them near the building site. Then, using a cookie sheet as a snow knife, we sliced the blocks into finished bricks and finally lifted them into place on the walls.
A Real Ice Box
As you build your fort's walls, be sure to designate a space for the built-in fridge. Snacks stay cool--and safe from stomping--when stored in this recessed compartment. Create one in a wall about halfway up from the bottom by setting in several blocks that are only half as thick as the others. Then, on the inside of the fort, build up the area below and beside the fridge with additional blocks. The compartment is perfect for storing drinks and treats, but don't let your goodies get too cold. (Ever try to peel a frozen orange?) And, please, enjoy your snack at the table--specifically a snow saucer set upon a pedestal of molded snow cylinders). After snacks, it's naptime, which means stretching out on our firm but comfy "snofa"--another snow block structure.
Bricks by the Bucket
If your snow is of the packable, snowball-making variety, try this simple brick-making method: scoop the snow into a clean bucket, pack it down with your hands or a shovel, then flip the bucket over in position. A couple of quick thumps on the bottom of the bucket, and--voilà!--the bucket slides off to reveal a perfectly shaped cylinder of snow. Stack the bricks to make walls or use them as we did: to support our kitchen table and to line the pathway to our front door. For extra firm bricks, let the cylinders freeze overnight on a piece of plastic tarp. When setting them in place, use fresh snow as mortar.
Color Your World
This isn't your parents' house, so go ahead and paint the walls if you want. We filled spray bottles with food coloring and water (about 6 drops per bottle) and let the troops run wild. Thinking of a more precise look? If the surface is solid and smooth, try working with regular tempera paint and brushes.
SAFETY NOTE: As fun as they are, snow forts are also potentially dangerous. That's why our design does not include a roof or tunnels, both of which can collapse. Even in an open fort, however, doors and windows can cave in, snow walls can give way, tall snowmen can suddenly lose their heads, and so on. Parents should supervise fort builders and take precautions to avoid injury.
Fine Fort Building
Snow fort windows are too often crude affairs, primitive peepholes bored through the walls with a stick and then widened through the age-old wiggling technique. Here we present a far more durable--and aesthetically pleasing--approach. Using the adjoining walls for support, we laid a sturdy board across what would become the top of the door or window, then continued our rows of snow bricks to cover it and complete the wall. As for the bandanna curtain, it's either decorative or defensive, depending on who you ask. Hung on a stick secured on either side of the snow-framed window, it serves those who prefer to host tea parties as well as those who need to keep an eye out for invaders. Other colorful bandannas, tied to sticks and set as flags on the fort's ramparts, complete the decorating theme.
Our fort's snowball firing range lets the well-armed take their best shots without beaning innocent bystanders. For one target, we used a snow saucer anchored on a stick in the snow and marked with a duct-tape X.
NOTE: Behind the saucer is a secret window--the fort's residents can reach through, push aside the saucer and spy on the sharp-throwers. On top of the wall, three snowball heads wear hats just waiting to be picked off by a player with excellent aim; buckets hanging from sticks are easier toss targets for littler kids, or snowball storage for everyone else.