Stake it out
Tent pegs don’t work well in snow. Put extra string on all your tent and vestibule tie points and grab a bunch of thin branches. Wrap the string around a stick and then bury it a foot down. The string will slide freely while the stick acts like a deadman, perfect for tying down your tent. Use a slip knot and you won’t have to dig the sticks out when it’s time to pack up.
Sure you could spend hours building a snow shelter, but you’ll get soaked, exhausted and waste valuable daylight hours. Instead bring a legitimate four-season tent, made for supporting snow loads and blocking chilly winds, and set it up in the right place.
Location, location, location
If there’s lots of snow on the ground you can pitch your tent just about anywhere, but leave-no-trace rules apply in winter too. Set up camp at least 30 metres from lakes and streams and away from summer and winter trails. A stand of trees is a good bet—it will provide shelter from the wind and trap some heat. Avoid depressions and gullies, which fill with cold air overnight, and also lee slopes, where snow will pile up if it snows or gets windy.
Lay the foundation
With skis or snowshoes off, stomp out an area several feet larger than your tent’s footprint. Leave it for an hour—go build your kitchen or start dinner—to allow the snow to settle and firm up. Then shovel it flat. Dig out your vestibule area so you can put your boots on sitting down.
A better kitchen
One of the greatest things about winter camping is that you can design your dream kitchen out of snow. Think sunken floor, benches, windscreen, island, shelves. Don’t skimp—long nights mean you’ll spend plenty of time just hanging out. As with the tent platform, stomp out a design to firm up the snow then shovel it out to flatten it.