Snow is a polarizing subject in the Northeast. Either you love the scene of fresh, white fluff kissing your driveway and cloaking your dog, or you loathe every last flake as you drag out those heavy shovels and dust off your car for the 90th time in a week.
While the snow can be cumbersome and dangerous on the commute, there is such a thing as “the perfect snow.” Like anything else, snow has many different variations, from super icy and dense to fluffy and airy.
Whether you’re gearing up for a snowball fight with your kids or your spouse (no judgment here), or you’re an enthusiast hitting the slopes, we’ve got the low-down on how to make the most of the white stuff.
The cool thing about making the perfect snowball is how similar it is to the science of ice skating on a molecular level.
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Think of an ice rink. The ice you skate on is a solid block of matter. It’s frozen water condensed so tightly, the water molecules are too lazy to move like they would when the matter is converted to liquid.
Like an ice rink, a snowflake is a solid piece of mass. It’s much more fragile than the ice rink you would find at your local hockey rink, but each snowflake has a unique, definable shape that takes pressure or heat to deform.
When you create a snowball, you are using pressure to condense those individual snowflakes into a new shape.
“You want the snow to be within 5 degrees of the freezing point, but obviously not over the 32 degree temperature so it stays as a solid,” Jennifer Fisk-Jaskolka, a seventh-grade science teacher at Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk Middle School, said. “What you do when you create a snowball is use pressure, not temperature, to convert the snow to a liquid for a split second so it freezes back to a solid mass. This process is called sintering.”
Fisk-Jaskolka noted the snow being right below the freezing point gives the snowball a better chance of sticking together. If you try to form a snowball with a freezing cold ball of snow, the pressure will not be enough to condense the molecules. Chances are, if the snow is too cold, you will end up with a semi-formed ball that will fall apart if you look at it wrong.
“The reason it relates to ice skating is that when you skate, your body weight is concentrated on this very thin sliver of metal, which becomes extremely sharp,” Fisk-Jaskolka said. “As you skate along, the pressure of your skate forcibly creates a thin separation in the ice and you’re skating on molecular water. This is why any divots in the ice look kind of glazed over.”
Pressure is the make-or-break component of the perfect snowball because the molecules need to heat up enough to form together. Without really packing that snow into your gloves, you will end up with snowflakes all over your jeans.
So, when you make that snowball, make sure to squeeze as hard as possible.
For the skiers and snowboarders, everyone loves those perfect days on the mountain. What makes them so perfect? For some people, it’s the snow, others the temperature; then there are people that love relaxing in the lodge. All of these factors can create the perfect day at the mountain.
Weather on the mountain can vary; it can be sunny one day and a complete blizzard the next. The fresh powder snow benefits beginners and the professionals. The professionals can gain speed going down the mountain, while beginners can enjoy the soft snow as they learn to ride. The texture of the snow will also help beginners stay uninjured; the softer the snow, the better the cushion. Softer snow will also help beginners keep their balance easier.
Keep in mind, mountains make it their goal to make the perfect snow for customers, so you wouldn’t experience as much of a variation in the sport scene as you would when trying to build your snowman.
According to www.snow-forecast.com, the perfect temperature is between about 21 and 30 degrees. These temperatures are comfortable for going down the mountain and result in fantastic soft snow. But you don’t want the temperatures too high, as that can result in undesirable conditions.