How to Make the Perfect Snowball

by Brett & Kate McKay on November 30, 2010 · 27 comments

in Just For Fun, Manly Skills

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As a boy, whenever the forecast called for possible snow, I would eagerly leap out of bed in the morning and look out the window to see if any of the white, fluffy stuff-white gold really-had fallen while I slumbered. If it had, I would then dash to the television, cross my fingers, and eagerly watch the local news, anxious to see the school closing list scroll across the bottom of the screen. Seeing your school come up on that list was the equivalent of winning the kid lottery. Boo-yah! A snow day!

Snow days are one of the best parts of boyhood-not only is school canceled, but the snow-covered ground offers a range of activities that are only possible a few times a year (at least for a kid in Oklahoma). (I recently heard that a school district in Ohio is trying to do away with the snow day by holding class online in the event of a school cancellation. A travesty of the highest order! The headline of this article says it all: “Ohio School District Crushes Kids’ Dreams With Online Snow-Day Classes“).

From snowball fights to snowman building, snow provides a positively irresistible outdoor playground for the young and old alike.

With winter weather setting in, I thought we’d take the time this month to review some essential snow play skills. You can teach them to your kids to enhance their snow day experience, or use them yourself…after all, just because you’re a man, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make time for boyish play!

First up in the snow skills series-how to make the perfect snowball.

Find the perfect snow. To make the perfect snowball, you need the perfect snow. For the best snowballs, find snow that’s not too wet or too dry. If it’s too wet, you’ll just end up making slushballs, which are basically rocks. Not a good thing for snowball fights unless you’re looking to kill a man.

While light, powdery snow makes great snow for skiing, it’s not conducive to snowball making. Colder temperatures create this powdery snow. Because of its low moisture content, powdery snow won’t pack. However, if you only have powder snow, there a few things you can do to make it suitable for packing snowballs.

First, look for snow in slightly warmer places such as close to the street where cars have driven or near houses where the heat given off from inside might warm things up a bit.

Second, and if you’re a masochist, pack the snowballs with your bare hands. The heat from your hands will warm up the snow and create enough moisture for it to stick together. Of course if the snowball fight lasts several hours, you might lose a few of your digits.

Third, wait until the middle of the day before you start your snowball fight. This will give the sun time to warm the snow up a bit and create the needed moisture for snowball packing.

Wear gloves, not mittens. When packing snowballs, you’ll need all the finger dexterity you can get. While mittens keep your hands nice and toasty, it’s hard to pack a snowball with a pair of flippers. It’s not impossible; it just takes more time and care. But that extra time can spell the difference between getting pegged in the face with a snowball and being able to launch a preemptive strike.

Also, the mitten’s strength in keeping your hands warm is also its weakness in making snowballs. Less heat escapes from a mitten. But you need a little heat for snowball packing, especially if you only have dry snow available. So instead of mittens, go with gloves. You’ll have the dexterity to quickly form snowballs and just enough heat to create the moisture needed for proper packing.

Packing your snowball. You’ve found the perfect snow and you have your gloves on; now it’s time to start making those snowballs. When selecting snow for your ammo, go with the snow a few inches below the surface. The top layer has already packed this snow down. Using pre-packed snow makes your job a bit easier. Fill both your cupped hands with snow. Start bringing your hands together while rotating them to pack the snow. Each time you bring your hands together, apply more and more pressure. If you start off with too much pressure, the snowball will just fall apart.

When you start feeling some resistance from the snow as you pack, the snowball is ready. Stop pressing and start smoothing the ball out so if forms a nice spherical shape. Ba-da-bing! You’ve got yourself a top notch snow grenade.

No soakers (unless you want to up the pain level) Soakers are snowballs dipped in water. The water causes the snow to melt a bit and ice up, turning a nice fluffy snowball into a cold, hard ice ball. Getting hit with a soaker feels like getting hit with a baseball. I’ve been hit many a time with these treacherous projectiles, and it hurts like hell. Never use soakers in friendly snowball fights with children and little old ladies. However, if you and your buds want to make your annual winter capture-the-flag game a bit more interesting, i.e. more painful, make it a soaker-only game. If your wife asks you why you have a bunch of welts on your body, tell her you got in a fight with a Yeti.

Make your snowballs one at a time or all at once? Strategy dictates which method you choose. If you lack cover and are being barraged with snowy projectiles, then you’ll have to make them one at a time. However, if you have sufficient cover to shield you from attack, build up an ammo pile before you launch your assault. When the enemy stoops over to make his one snowball, you can fire two or three snowballs at him. Master of the Snowball, Buddy the Elf, will show you how it’s done (of course having a rapid fire arm helps too):

Alright, now it’s your turn. Got any tips on making the perfect snowball? Share them with us in the comments!

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Andrew November 30, 2010 at 9:32 am

Here in Atlanta it doesn’t snow very often, so it’s a tradition to save the last snowball in the freezer until the next time it snows. Sometimes it’s in there for quite some time, but it’s a reminder that it happened once and it’s happening again.

2 Tim Chilcote November 30, 2010 at 9:59 am

Cool article. I endorse packing snowballs with bare hands – improves quality and throwing accuracy, and shows you’re impervious to the elements (mental warfare). If all else fails, resort to whitewashing.

3 Steve November 30, 2010 at 10:37 am

Brett,
Thanks to Kate and yourself for another year of how to be a better man. It must be quite the challange to keep this site functioning and I truly appreciate your hard work. Happiest of holidays to Kate, Gus and yourself. All the best! Steve

4 Mike November 30, 2010 at 10:46 am

Coming from Northern British Columbia, we have snow 6 – 8 months out of the year, but most of that is to cold for snowball fights (-30 – -40 means bare hands only, no snow is naturally moist enough for a good snowball fight, but it must be kept brief, lest you lose both your hands) so we couldn’t just go out and have a good ol snowball fight every single day, but when we do it’s just awesome. Sometimes the snow banks would be 30 feet high, a veritable fortress to unleash snowy death upon your opponents. My prefered strategy was to lay down some suprresive fire with a few well places and rapid fire snow balls (stocked a few before hand, then let loose). As they cringe in terror, take a minute to put together a snowman mega snowball (rolled up just like you would to make a snowman, usually about 2 feet in diameter), charge the enemy lines and splatter the hapless victim all over the snow bank. It is awesome. One of this monsters can knock a teenager over and merge them with the snow bank, and even a grown man cringes in terror when you turn their face into a scale model of frosty :D

5 Brett & Kate McKay November 30, 2010 at 10:52 am

@Steve-

Your comment is much appreciated! We’ve been up to the wee hours every night these days trying to finish articles (and the manuscript of our next book!), and it’s readers like you who keep us going.

6 mycatholicblog.com November 30, 2010 at 10:58 am

thanks for the article. Very entertaining! I also find that throwing the snowball sideways (like you would to skip a stone) sometimes results in more impact than just hurling it overhead. just a tip to keep in mind during some *friendly* snowball fights!! :)

7 Dylan November 30, 2010 at 2:25 pm

glove warmers are the key to a pain free, solid snow ball fight.

8 Aengus O'Shaughnessy November 30, 2010 at 3:54 pm

I live in Ireland, where there’s a good deal of snow in winter–hence, I consider myself somewhat of an expert on snowball fights. I always use bare hands, because, aside from making the snow stick together better, it makes me look tough (as Tim Chilcote said above). The main secret to winning a snowball fight is launching surprise attacks. Build up a stock of snowballs at the start, carry as many as you can with you, and take cover behind a tree or rock–then, when the other lads come looking for you, you spring out and pelt them with snowy death.
Also, I used to have a buddy who would put tomatoes inside his snowballs–some of the lads insisted that this was cheating, and that one ought to use snow, and snow alone, but that never stopped him. We’d usually come out of a snow fight with him looking like we were covered in blood, though it was actually the remains of the tomato-filled snowballs.
Other than that, it’s also important to dress for the occasion. Never wear a hat that will be knocked off easily–this can affect morale, and you’ll spend half your time looking for the darned thing. For the rest of your wardrobe, pick something that is fairly warm, but doesn’t LOOK warm (more of the make-yourself-look-tough thing). Heavy snow suits will make you appear rather pathetic, and some even have the side-effect of making you waddle, but there is nothing so warm and comfortable as a good Pendleton jacket. It can also give one the air of a hardy woodsman-type, doncha know. As for foot wear, you can’t go wrong with old-fashioned leather boots, but make sure and certain they’re sewn tight at the seams–otherwise, you’ll have wet feet, which can be most distracting.

9 Mark Petersen November 30, 2010 at 4:18 pm

It’s the combination of fluff articles like this one and the serious knowledge that make this the best site on the interwebz. Now I’m off to find out how to survive a shark attack.

10 Nick November 30, 2010 at 6:18 pm

My tactic is to pack the snowball only tight enough to throw it without it falling apart as it leaves the hand. Then aim for the neck. If you hit, the snowball will fall apart and hopefully go down the inside of your target’s coat and/or shirt. If their shirts are tucked into their pants, they will end up with clumps of snow against their belly button or worse. Bwa ha ha ha.
With this tactic I can often throw three times the snowballs of those who spend time packing them.

11 Paul November 30, 2010 at 7:49 pm

I better not catch any of you using the store bought red plastic “snowball maker” or it’s a rock core snowball for you.

12 jayberry November 30, 2010 at 9:16 pm

A way to make a good shotgun type snowball is to put some airsoft BBs in a lightly packed snowball. you can get airsoft BBs at WallMart for $10 – $15 per jar of 5,000 – 15,000

13 cwnidog December 1, 2010 at 3:41 pm

I always like the double snowballs, AKA “dumbells” that wobbled as they went through the air. What they lacked in velocity, they made up for in mass. Their best applications were the sneak attack from behind, or being pitched in a high arc over a snow fort’s walls.

14 Aaron December 1, 2010 at 8:13 pm

If possible try to find cover at a higher point than the opponent, throwing at a downward direction always is a good advantage during a spontaneous snow fight while skiing. At least at Tahoe anyway.

15 Tim December 5, 2010 at 4:27 pm

Wow I think that’s a little too much.

16 Chris December 7, 2010 at 3:23 am

This article makes me quite sad that I live in Texas where it snows MAYBE once a year. Even if it does it’s not enough snow to allow me to pelt my friends “with snowy death.”

17 Aaron December 7, 2010 at 11:40 am

It is possible to make a passable snowball even when the snow is loose and powdery,

The key is that heat from your hands is not the only heat added to the snow when you pack it together, rather, by pushing the snow firmly together and squeezing, the resulting pressure causes the snow to melt just a little, and then freeze together when the pressure is released again.

Because of this, you can make a better snowball if you have the hand strength to grip the snow and pack it more tightly than your kid brother.

18 Matt December 11, 2010 at 8:57 am

We don’t get snow in Britain all too often, but when we do get a nice snowball fight going, I find the key is to wear ski-style gloves rather than woollen ones. You’ll stay nice and warm and dry, and will be able to keep going longer than your less thoughtful competitors!

19 Teacup December 12, 2010 at 3:28 pm

I have to disagree about gloves over mittens. Most gloves are so thick trying to compensate for not being mittens that you can’t move your fingers anyway! You’re much better off with loose-fitting mittens than bulky gloves.

20 mrbene December 12, 2010 at 4:53 pm

Do whatever possible to avoid having a snowball fight with a pro- or semi-pro- pitcher. Seriously. Guys (and gals) who spend serious time learning how to throw a baseball in the 70 mph+ range are able to really zing those snowballs.

21 Xineiter December 12, 2010 at 7:13 pm

An extra touch to the snowball fight. Get a lighter gass refill. pump the snowball whit gas and ignite it. Hurry up and throw it. It will stay ignited when thrown and in air. Be carefully and have funn ;)

22 Harry R. Burger December 13, 2010 at 12:28 am
23 ToSensei December 13, 2010 at 4:50 am

try packing smaller and harder snowballs, they have many advantages:
* faster to make
* less cooling-out of the hands
* when you stack ‘em, you got much more projectiles at hand
* they can be thrown a lot faster and with much more precision, therefore increasing the hitrate.
* if you got big hands and close-quarter-combat: shotgun mode B)

24 Tom December 14, 2010 at 12:29 pm

Here’s a way to practice the art of the snowball fight in the warmth of our own home: bit.ly/snowcraft.

25 Nick December 28, 2010 at 3:13 pm

Great post! One minor complaint. The word ‘travesty’ is not synonymous with the word ‘tragedy.’ If something is a poor recreation or a rendition in bad taste it is a travesty.

26 Kendall Hunte November 13, 2013 at 8:45 pm

I agree with the first couple of comments-bare hands in snowy weather does feel manly. However, fun such as this only occurs about 3 1/2 months here in New York. So, I rarely use gloves. That is best for me when enjoying the art of “snow” downs.

27 Brody Foster December 17, 2013 at 1:54 pm

If you have tons of snow and no protection, pile it up. But make sure it is loose and not packed so it takes less snow. If it starts falling or breaking you should pack it tight. I found that if you can make a hole in your protection about your size small so you can crawl through it, it can be a good peek hole or getaway route.

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