Can You Make a Snowball in Powdery Snow?

It’s a perfect winter’s day outside. The snow is light and powdery and you anticipate that shoveling it will be quick and easy. With your extra free time, you figured you’d make a snowman with the kids or maybe have a snowball fight. Is powdery snow good for making snowballs?

No, you can’t make snowballs in powdery snow since the snowballs won’t hold their structure. You need snow with more moisture, as the free water acts as a glue that will allow you to roll firm snowballs that pack a punch!

In this article, we’ll talk more about which types of snow are conducive to rolling snowballs and which aren’t. We’ll also provide tips for making flawless snowballs and how to throw them so you can win more snowball fights! 

For more snowball fun, check out our page all about winter!

Is Powdery Snow Good for Making Snowballs?

As we talked about in the intro, powdery snow is a blessing in a lot of ways. It’s light and airy so shoveling won’t hurt your back. If you’re into snowboarding or skiing, you pray for this kind of snow, as it’s the best for these sports.

Yet for rolling up snowballs or even assembling a snowman, powdery snow is about the worst snow you can get

When new snow falls and dries somewhat, the result is powdery snow. The ice crystals on the surface are nice and loose, which is the biggest defining quality of this snow. Maybe the snow that you shoveled is a bit firmer since it’s compacted, but the powdery texture still remains.

If you try to go outside in powdery snow and make a snowball, it will fall apart in your hands. As we’ve talked about on the blog before, you can’t build a snowman in powdery snow either. 

The reason for this? Snow needs moisture to stick together. The free water within snow behaves a lot like glue, keeping the snow crystals unified so you can build with them. 

Yet moisture content is a careful balancing act. Too little leaves you with snow that won’t stick, such as powdery snow, but too much is wet and slushy. You can’t do much of anything with this snow either.

What Type of Snow Do You Need for Making Snowballs?

Okay, so you won’t be able to make a snowman or even toss around some snowballs in powdery snow. What kind of snow is better for these activities?

Either moist or wet snow, with moist snow being defined as that which has around three percent water and wet snow with up to eight percent. If the water content of snow is 15 percent, that’s very wet. Like we just explained, this snow is as useless for making snowballs as dry powder snow.

Seasonal snow that accumulates throughout the winter is often wetter than powdery snow, so you can always wait for another snowfall or two and try making snowballs then. 

Firn snow is round and dense, so it too is a good choice for packing snowballs. That’s also true of neve snow, which falls, then melts, and will freeze a second time. Since it’s compacted, neve snow has good moisture content.

The kids are asking you to make snowballs now though. Is there anything you can do with powdery snow to make it moister and firmer? Actually, yes, and we’ve discussed it on the blog before. Here’s a recap.

By taking a pitcher of water and pouring it over an area of your snow-covered yard, the water could make the powdery snow moister. It could just as easily turn it into slush though. If this method does work, make sure that you pack the snow into very firm snowballs so any of the remaining loose powder is compacted. 

If you don’t do this, then even though you might be able to make snowballs, the moment you try throwing one, the wind will separate the snow crystals and the snowball will fall apart right in front of your very eyes! 

How to Make Great Snowballs

Let’s assume that a better, wetter (but not too wet) snow came through not too long after the powdery snow fell, or perhaps you were able to make the powder snow moister with water. Either way, the snow that lies before you now is ideal for making snowballs. 

Crafting the perfect snowball is about more than simply rolling a ball of snow. Here are some steps and tactics for mastering your technique.

Don’t Make Snowballs When It’s Too Warm

The warmer the weather, the faster the snow will melt. Once you put snow in your warm hands, you can accelerate its melting, even if you’re wearing gloves. Yet if the temperatures outside are too cold, then the snow will be hard and frosty even if the conditions for making snowballs are otherwise right.

You want temperatures that linger around 32 degrees Fahrenheit when you step out with the kids to make snowballs. It’s okay if the temps are a few degrees over or under that, but not too much or your snowballs won’t come out right.

Dig Deep for Snow

When you go to make a snowball, do you scrape the snow off the surface? So do most people, but this is the incorrect technique. You’re supposed to reach deeper below the surface where there’s less loose, powdery snow. 

Since this deeper snow has more surface snow atop it, it’s compacted for you already. You’ll still have to roll the snowballs and pack them, but not as much as you would if you grabbed a handful of snow from the surface. 

Roll Snowballs in Gloves

Mittens are nice since you can freely move your fingers within the mitten, but they’re not a good pick for making snowballs. Your fingers can’t grip onto the snow to pack it tightly, so choose gloves.

Cup and Rotate 

Okay, now we’re getting into how to make snowballs themselves. Once you pick up a chunk of deep snow in your gloved hands, cup the snow in your palms and rotate. Keep rotating until the snow chunk becomes more of a snowball.

Apply Pressure

As you rotate your developing snowball in your hand, make sure that you’re pressing down on it as well. You should only begin doing this when the snowball has taken shape. Any sooner than that and the snowball might not retain its structure.

The key is applying just the right amount of pressure. If you’re too light-handed, then you might not get that coveted snowball shape and consistency that you’re after. Yet overdoing it on the pressure will cause the snowball to fall apart. You’ll then have to start all over again.

Know When to Stop

Most snow pros know when their snowball is complete because the snowball tells them. No, not verbally, of course, but in another way. Do you feel like the snowball has hardened almost too much and rotating it isn’t really doing much at this point? Then congrats, your snowball is done! 

Tips for Winning a Snowball Fight

Now that you and the kids can make snowballs effortlessly, you’re going to want to show off your snowball-throwing prowess with others around the neighborhood. Whether you’re joining your kids for a little snowball fight (provided other adults are participating, of course) or they’re going into battle themselves against the neighbor kids, here are some tips for winning!

Treat the Area as a Battlefield

If it’s your backyard or the neighbor’s yard that you’re having a snowball fight in, you can’t think of it as a backyard anymore. It’s a battlefield. 

You have your side where you and your team (the kids) will compete and the neighbors have theirs. You don’t want to breach their line just as they don’t want to do the same for yours lest they’ll be pelted with snowballs.

Have Lots of Snowballs at the Ready 

This is a snowball fight we’re talking about here and snowballs are your ammunition. You can’t just have two or three, but many. Each person on your team should have at least a dozen snowballs handy, maybe even two dozen. 

Here’s a good rule of thumb for how many snowballs to make. Scope out the number of snowballs the enemy has and then double it. If you and the kids are having a hard time rolling up so many snowballs in rapid succession, you can always use a tool like a snowball maker

The one we linked you to will produce snowballs shaped like baseballs every time. Just check with your opponents before the great snowball battle begins about whether using a snowball maker is allowed or if it counts as cheating.

Keep your snowballs at your side at all times. Don’t put them on concrete or they could begin to melt. A cold area such as snowy ground will be fine.  

Aim and Throw

How do you throw a snowball? There’s certainly a technique to it!

First, you want to visually find your target and lock on. Next, get your body into position. Your feet should be spaced apart and under your shoulders. Direct your feet towards the target. Gently bend your knees. 

Now take a snowball, gripping it in whichever of your hands is dominant. Hold onto the snowball firmly but not so much that you’ll crush it before you ever get a chance to throw it. Raise your arm like you’re throwing a baseball, gaining some momentum. Pull your arm forward naturally and release the snowball. 

As you throw, keep your eyes locked on your target so you can direct your arm towards them as well. Throwing a snowball might not come naturally to you at first, and that’s okay. Like many things in life, practice makes perfect! 

Find a Place to Hide

Having a snowball fight is not all about offense, but defense as well. To avoid getting hit and eliminated by the other team, you need a good place to hide. Maybe you build a snow fortress if you’re feeling especially ambitious. A tree or a shed are other good hiding places. 

Visit Our Winter/Snow Page for More Great Content!

Final Thoughts 

Making snowballs in powdery snow isn’t doable since the snow lacks the moisture to keep the snow crystals attached to one another. Wetter snow will help the snowballs retain their shape so you can make a bunch and prove that you’re the snowball-throwing champions on the street!  

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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