Heavily rimed new snow, often shaped like little Styrofoam balls.

Graupel is that Styrofoam ball type of snow that stings your face when it falls from the sky. It forms from strong convective activity within a storm (upward vertical motion) caused by the passage of a cold front or springtime convective showers. The static buildup from all these falling graupel pellets sometimes cause lightning as well.

It looks and behaves like a pile of ball bearings. Graupel is a common weak layer in maritime climates but more rare in continental climates. It’s extra tricky because it tends to roll off cliffs and steeper terrain and collect on the gentler terrain at the bottom of cliffs. Climbers and extreme riders sometimes trigger graupel avalanches after they have descended steep terrain (45-60 degrees) and have finally arrived on the gentler slopes below (35-45 degrees)–just when they are starting to relax. Graupel weak layers usually stabilize in about a day or two after a storm, depending on temperature.

Graupel Summary:

Graupel tends to become faceted easily when subjected to a strong temperature gradient, in which case, graupel produces avalanches much more persistently.

Looks like:
Little Styrofoam balls

Feels like:
Stings your face

Behaves mechanically:
Like ball bearings

Distribution pattern:
Rolls off of cliffs and steep slopes and collects on gentler terrain and in pockets. Not aspect or elevation dependent.

Sstabilizes about one day after deposited, depending on temperature and metamorphism