Its complicated !
If you look at its physics, chemistry and its general makeup, snow is just frozen water made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom that has assumed a solid crystallized structure. Depending on how the freezing of the H2O occurs, the snow crystal will have different shapes and properties. The ice crystals in snowflakes are constructed in incredibly unique shapes.
We Homo Sapien’s have been to the moon, engineered internal combustion engines and nuclear power plants while also discovered black holes however it has been darned impossible to invent a really good ski wax that works on all types of snow !. That is how complex snow is.
Is it Powder!
Snow can splash, crumble, whine, scream, chuckle, rustle, compact or not compact. It is also a fact that we cannot make snow as well as nature can. Admittedly, our snowmaking machines can cover a hill and create a durable pack lasting for thousands of sliding skiers, but my Powder Mad friends it’s not Powder !
We all know the Eskimo’s have many words for snow but so too does the free-rider and the Scientist. In English alone, we free-riders talk of Powder, POW crust, corn, spring, slush, spindrift, slab, granular, sleet, pellets, smooth, champagne, drift, hail, wet, sky chubs, and many more besides. In the scientific community Physicist Ukichiro Nakaya created the first systematic classification scheme for snowflakes, in which he subdivided falling snow into 41 individual morphological types. We can then divide these again into 7 major principal snow crystal types as plates, stellar crystals, columns, needles, spatial dendrites, capped columns, and irregular forms. To these are added three additional types of frozen precipitation: graupel, ice pellets, and hail.
This is POW!
So, what is Powder and how does it form the fluffy snow we know as POW, well we need the right circumstances and temperature. All snow is a build up of precipitation created elsewhere and in mountains this falls as snow. We want heavily laden clouds hitting very cold temperatures and forming very cold snow crystals, while falling through a continuation of very cold and dry air. The colder it is when it finally lands the less water it contains and as such the dryer the powder and structure of the crystal. The lightest of the light champagne falls as the crystal known as stellar Dendrites or Fernlike Stellar Dendrites they have so many side branches they look a bit like ferns. These are the largest snow crystals, often falling to earth with diameters of 2-5 cm or more. Despite their large size, these are single crystals of ice.
“What is Powder” comes from our friends at www.powdermad.com they know a bit about skiing POW that’s for sure.