How to

30 August 2016

The Science of Building the Perfect Snowman

I’m sure many of us share fond winter memories of playing in the snow. As we grew, so did the scale and quality of our snow angels, the competitiveness of our snowball fights, and the ambition to perfect our snowman-building technique. 

But recently, a selection of physicists, chemists and mathematicians have put in a little more effort that you might expect.

A mathematician from the University of Nottingham Trent called Dr James Hind has come up with an elaborate formula for the perfect snowman. He was commissioned to carry out this important work by insurance firm More Than, when a study found that 92% of Britons love building snowmen, but a startling 87% are not confident they possess the skills required by the task.

Enter Dr Hind with his game-changing formula.

The formula factors in variables such as height, diameter of snow ‘tiers’, the ‘purity’ of the snow, and the role played by accessories which all affect the durability and aesthetic appeal of the final product.

His mathematically ideal snowman is exactly 5.8 feet tall, has four limbs of equal length, and is constructed using three tiered balls of fresh snow, with diameters of 11.8, 19.6 and 31.4 inches for head, chest and base, respectively. This is in accordance with the ‘golden ratio’ which many believe to be the key to a visually appealing form.

For maximum attractiveness, the face of the snowman must be in proportion too. According to Hind’s model, this is achieved by placing eyes no more than 1.9 inches apart, and a carrot nose which measures exactly 1.8 inches in length.

Dr Hind’s three accessories of choice are a scarf, hat and gloves. Three buttons must be equidistantly spaced across the body. Presumably, these touches accentuate the snowman’s curves just enough, without detracting from his natural features, and of course take care of his practical, cold weather needs.

Hind is confident his findings will put this ancient conundrum to rest, once and for all:
‘There are many contrasting opinions about what makes the perfect snowman, but this research should settle the debate, as it outlines the definitive blueprint for the ideal snowman according to science.’

Thank goodness for that. Peace of mind for the innumerable builders who have been plagued by this pesky uncertainty for as long as humans have inhabited snowy lands. We can all sleep easy now.

Img source: usatoday
Here is the formula in question, which funnily enough, as many have pointed out, bears a striking resemblance to a snowman’s three-part structure.

Let’s break that down.

The first term (‘head’ portion of the snowman formula) deals with the quality of the snow, which we all know is most important to give you a fighting chance at achieving anything this snow day. To score the maximum of 20 points, you must minus the litter and input the time since snowfall and whether temperature rises above 0 degrees. Points lost for dirty snow and building in suboptimal conditions.

If you’re interested, the ‘head’ section is based on the natural logarithm e, which equals approximately 2.72.

The middle portion is based on Pi, and offers a maximum of 30 points for getting all extras right. You lose points for bestowing fewer than 3 accessories upon your man of snow, for an oversized nose, and for disregarding the proper eye distance apart and button stipulation.

The base section is the most complicated, and is worth a whopping 50 points. It deals with the proportions and size of your snowman, and will deduct points from those snowmen who fail to attain the height of 162 cm or whose head: middle: base ratio does not fit the ‘golden ratio’ of Phi (approx. 1.62).

These are all added together to give a score out of 100 which determines just how close to perfection your artistic expression came.

If all this maths practice isn’t quite enough to get you excited, don’t worry – it gets even better.
More Than have conducted some valuable research so that, once you have put in the hard work of scoring your own efforts, you can compare your score with that of your favourite fictional snowmen.

Img source:
A team of insurance snowmen aficionados has carefully worked out the scores for some of the classic  and best loved snowmen of all time, including old-timers like Frosty the Snowman (1969) and The Snowman (from The Snowman of 1978) and newcomers like Olaf from Frozen (2013).

Sadly for the nation’s most adored Olaf, who apparently 36% of Britons favour over any other snowman, his design is far from ideal. He scored an abominable 15 out of 100, flopping an embarrassing distance from the goal of perfection.

Leon from Elf (2003) performed only a little better than Olaf, achieving a fairly pitiful score of 20.

Classic figures Frosty and The Snowman have been on our screens for decades, maybe our familiarity with them enabled them to reach higher. Frosty attained a respectable 49, while The Snowman achieved 73 out of 100 points. Despite the heart-breaking ‘big melt’ at the close of the film, The Snowman can at least take comfort in that he enjoyed attractive proportions and had a natural aptitude for accessorising during his short life.

Topping the list is Jack Frost, the eponymous snowman of the 1998 motion picture. He soars to victory, trampling other imperfect imaginings underfoot, on a score of 80.

The surveying efforts show that real life snowmen are also failing to measure up. Shockingly, 64% of UK snowmen are not equipped with a hat, and a scary 59% of them have no scarf to protect from harsh winds. The average snowman is not tall enough either at 110 cm or 3.65 feet, a staggering 32% shorter than Hind’s recommended height.

I don’t know about you, but I think I prefer my snow creations to be a little less rigidly defined. I might take the risk and stick to the age-old snowman-building strategy of ‘just winging it’. After all, I want my snowmen to be valued for their individual quirks, personalities and imperfections: they will not live their short lives bound by a formula, and neither will I.

Naomi Pyburn

Naomi is an English graduate with an itch to write. Her free time is spent blogging, reading feminist writing, cycling, cooking and managing her food Instagram account. Her not-so secret talent is the ability to nap anywhere.