How to Make Powdery Snow Sticky


You’ve been trying to roll snowball after snowball in powdery snow until your hands have gone numb. You just want a few snowballs, as you know that tossing them with the kids would make them happy. Is there any way to make powdery snow stickier so you can use it for more?

Yes, you can make powdery snow sticky with a little bit of water. Depending on how much snow you want to wet, you can use a gardening hose to lightly mist the snow or even several buckets of water. Waterproof gloves are a must!

In this article, we’ll talk about what powdery snow is, how to moisten it, and what you can do with your newly sticky snow. Winter enthusiasts are not going to want to miss this one, especially if you have bored kids in the house! 

What Is Powdery Snow? How Come You Can’t Build with It?

Let’s begin by discussing powdery snow and its origins.

The formation of powdery snow depends on two key factors: the presence of free water and the surface temperature during snowfall.

Surface Temperature:

Snowfall occurs only when temperatures are at or below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. However, the surface temperature isn’t consistently uniform during snow events. Whether the surface temperature is above or below freezing determines whether the snow is wetter or drier.

When surface temperatures are nearly freezing but not quite, falling snow may come down slightly melted, increasing its moisture content and making it wetter and heavier.

For powdery snow to develop, the surface temperature must be consistently below freezing, either slightly or well under. This prevents the snow from melting, resulting in lower moisture content.

Free Water Content:

Moisture significantly influences snow texture. The free water content represents the percentage of moisture in the snow. When the free water content is below eight percent, the snow is powdery and loose. Another name for powdery snow is “dry snow” for this exact reason.

If the free water content is around eight percent or slightly higher, the snow is wet but not overly saturated—ideal for building.

When the free water content reaches approximately 13 percent or higher, the snow becomes too saturated, resembling slush and becoming impractical for most purposes, including shoveling.

Why You Can’t Build Snowman with Powdery Snow

In the introduction, we discussed an example where your attempts at creating a snowball using powdery snow were futile—the snowflakes simply refused to adhere, regardless of how many attempts were made. This outcome is consistent and won’t change.

Moisture in snow acts like glue, serving to bind snow crystals together, allowing them to take on the desired shape. In the case of powdery snow, the insufficient “glue” prevents any cohesion, making it impossible for the snow to stick together.

Conversely, in slushy snow, where there’s an excess of “glue,” everything becomes messy and unsuitable for constructive purposes. Achieving the right balance of free water or “glue” is crucial for successful snow shaping.

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How to Make Snow Sticky

Are you stuck with powdery snow? You have two options. You can wait for that ever-elusive perfect snowfall that may never come, or you can take the powdery snow you have now and try to make it into something useful.

Personally, we vote for the latter! 

Making powdery snow sticky doesn’t involve much, just water. As we touched on in the intro, we always suggest wearing waterproof gloves. 

SEALSKINZ unisex gloves come highly recommended. These gloves are made of a mix of elastane (two percent), nylon (14 percent), and ultra-warming merino wool (84 percent). The triple-layered protection will keep your digits warm as you handle wet snow.

Once you have your gloves on, here are your options for making powdery snow sticky, or what I like to call it, Packing Snow.

How to Make Packing Snow….

Garden Hose Method to Make Snow Sticky

We advise building your snow structure near a source of water if the snow is powdery and you need it to be sticky. If you’re in the side yard or the backyard and you have perfect virgin snow you want to build with, then find your garden hose and screw it onto the tap.

There’s no need to use a heavy water spray here, as you don’t want to oversaturate the snow. Wet it until you can feel the moisture on top of the snow’s formerly dry surface, then turn off your hose. You can now begin working with that snow.

Water and Bucket Method to Make Snow Sticky

If you can’t get your tap to turn on because it’s frozen solid, don’t panic. You can always use a bucket to dump water on the powdery snow. We’d suggest this option if you need to wet large amounts of snow quickly.

The water can be from outdoors or indoors. Your waterproof gloves will come in handy here as you walk with the bucket, especially if you accidentally tilt the bucket and some of the water spills. 

Pour the water onto the powdery snow and wait. The texture of the snow will change fast.

What Can You Make with Sticky Snow?

As we’ve talked about on the blog here and here, powdery snow isn’t good for making many snow structures. Sticky snow though is an entirely different story. The snow will contain enough free water content that you can build to your heart’s content. 

Here are some ideas to get you started.

Snowballs

Now that you’ve moistened the powdery snow, try rolling another snowball. This time, it will come together smoothly and easily just as it should. We’ve talked about how to make the perfect snowball on the blog, so give that article a read. 

Although we normally recommend digging deep into a pile of snow to make a snowball, that snow is likely powdery too. For your purposes, if the snow is clean enough, then stick to the wettened surface snow.

Then gather a handful of snow in your palm and start rotating it. The motion might feel a little awkward at first, but it will become more fluid as you go. After a bit of snowball rolling, start to apply pressure until the snowball feels like it’s fighting back against you. 

The right amount of pressure is key, as too little won’t allow the snowball to bind and too much can crush the snowball in your hand like it’s powdery snow.

Of course, you can always use snowball-making tools to get perfect snowballs every time! 

Igloos

If you have a couple of hours, some patience, and plenty of water, you can make your kids’ winter by building them their very own igloo. We went over the steps for doing so in this post, so we’ll recap for you now.

An igloo should be between nine and 12 inches in size. Make an outline for where you want your igloo to go, then wet your snow and start building from the bottom. You should form the structure of the igloo from the back to the front so you can wrap up by building the smaller, narrower entrance.

Make sure that as the walls get taller that they curve so they take on the shape of a true igloo. 

Snow Forts 

Are you going to wage a snowball war with the kids on the street? Then having a snow fort to hide behind is integral so you can guide your team to victory. A snow fort doesn’t have to be as involved as an igloo, which is good news if your digits are already going numb.

The best snow forts have small openings for your teammates to look out from so they can determine what the other team is doing. The walls should be tall too so they provide adequate cover.

No matter which snow structure of the four that most appeals to you and the kids, there are some basic rules you can follow to preserve them. 

Always build your snow structure away from direct sunlight and watch out for indirect sunlight as well.

On days that are going to be warmer than 32 degrees, it’s not a bad idea to pour more water on your snow structure. By sundown or nightfall, the water will freeze, which solidifies your snow structure. 

How to Build a Snowman with Powdery Snow

If you can not roll a snowball before in powdery snow, then making a snowman certainly would not have worked. Since the water content is so slow in powdery snow, it really does make building a snowman impossible. You are better off not trying and saving yourself the frustration.

Although you can use either method described above to transform your powdery snow into a wet snow, the water and bucket method ought to work better for your purposes.

Steps to Making a Snowman when the Snow is Powdery

  1. Outline the design of your snowman. Determine how big you want your bottom ball to be. 
  2. Collect buckets or wheelbarrows of snow and mix in some water from the hose to make it more wet. Avoid adding too much water at once to eliminate the creation of pure slush. Obtaining the perfect consistency of snow to water is crucial and will likely take trial and error. 
  3. Next, instead of rolling your snowball around in the snow to form your giant ball, you must make the ball by adding handful upon handful of the wet snow you created. Here is where making a snowman does take extra time and effort. Scoop the wet snow one handful at a time and construct the base of your snowman. 
  4. Once your first ball or base of the snowman is created, move on to the other one or two balls. 
  5. When finished, use your gloved hand to scrape away any unwanted snow, making each ball nice and smooth. 
  6. Finish your snowman by adding accessories and other items from nature. 

Now that you have wetter snow, you and the kids can spend the afternoon crafting the best snowman ever. The base of the snowman should several feet, so you’ll need quite a lot of wet snow.

Then, to keep your snowman secure, follow the 1:2:3 ratio. The ratio refers to a head with a one-foot diameter, a midsection with a two-foot diameter, and a base with a three-foot diameter. 

Are you stumped on how to decorate your snowman? Fortunately for you, we have a post full of awesome and affordable snowman accessories that will be sure to make your new snow friend the most unique and interesting one on the block! 

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Final Thoughts on Powdery to Sticky Snow

Making powdery snow sticky is as simple as wetting it. Then you’re free to use the previously useless powdery snow to create snowmen, snow forts, igloos, or snowballs. 

Our word of advice? Don’t soak the whole yard in water. Wet snow is harder to shovel than the powdery stuff, so you’ll just create more work for yourself! 

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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