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Polar Dome: Story of Invention 

by Randy Buhler

I have always had a fascination with snow. Every winter I would construct a snow shelter of some sort. Over the years the various types of shelters I have made included an igloo, a quinzhee, tunnels, snow caves, ice-house, etc....

However, I was always frustrated at the length of time it took to make these shelters. I was also unimpressed with the irregular shapes, low-ceilings and small living area that were the results of my efforts.

One night, I was up far too late, driven to create a new shelter. I sat at my desk sketching various methods to create the perfect dome. I re-hashed some existing ideas, bladders of air, collapsible interior panels, snow-brick making molds, etc... But the existing ideas were problematic from a weight, cost or Achilles heel perspective.

The biggest problem looking back, is that everyone including myself was thinking of how to create an interior form ONTO which snow could be piled easily, then to be able to easily remove the form. The answer lay however, in creating something INTO which snow could be piled easily. I still get suggestions from well-meaning individuals to use a bladder on the inside. But a bladder is costly, heavy and subject to tear. Plus, the time it would take to inflate and deflate a bladder is longer than shoveling the snow necessary to fill and remove the snow from the same space. Also, a bladder would not allow the packing of edges that currently can take place.

Back to the story. I conceived of an idea of a form, or girdle in which snow could be shoveled and the edges packed. Instantly I knew it would work. I have invented many a gizmo over which I have had doubts, but not this time! I showed the concept of collapsible fabric panels to my father, Dick Buhler, who also recognized its potential success, and agreed to fund a prototype. Within a week or two, we had a prototype, with zippers along the edges of the panels. (Now we use a lacing system to fasten the panels.) It worked so well, that to this day we have yet to get a better snow structure. We have greatly improved on the panels themselves, but we still use a picture of the first Polar Dome in part of our promotion.

I am constantly amazed at how well the Polar Dome panels work. Often I get comments from people saying "why didn't I think of that".

My brother Richard Buhler,  has become a true advocate of the Polar Dome and has contributed significantly in the invention of accessories, in designing and building production equipment, promotion and in business planning.

My mother, Esther Buhler, for the first several years allowed her basement to become a sewing factory. Way to go MOM!

This is truly a family effort in many ways.  All have contributed in significant ways.

Our biggest initial break came from Ely, Minnesota. The now late Sandy Bridges from the Boy Scout Northern Tier National High Adventure base invited us to demonstrate the Polar Dome to a leadership group. (In December of 1993) We flew out in a little plane for one afternoon to build a dome for them. They have been using Polar Domes ever since. 

[Note that the newer generation of technology, the "Ice Box" igloo-making kit, has replaced the classic "Polar Dome" above because of its efficiency.  See: Ice Box]






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Igloo-Making Kit ] Igloos ] Dome How-To ] [ Polar Domes ] Ski Tour Tent ] Snow Houses ] Old Timer Hints ]

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Last modified: October 15, 2016.