Small cone-shaped snow features that form as snow clings to bushes and trees while the surrounding snowpack consolidates.

Credit: Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center

Settlement cones are a sign that the snowpack is settling and in a general sense, gaining strength. Fresh snow gradually becomes more compact and dense. If it snows a foot overnight on your deck, that foot of snow will gradually consolidate to 10”, then 8”, then 6”, provided it stops snowing. The same process occurs in the backcountry, except as fresh snow consolidates, cones of snow get hung up by friction on bushes and trees. The larger settlement cones are, the more the snowpack has recently consolidated.  Settlement cones are associated with bonding and strengthening in the new and recent snow, but are not necessarily indicative of bonding in deeper weak layers.  

Settlement cones around trees and bushes are a sign that the snowpack has recently consolidated. Credit: Utah Avalanche Center