Create a Convincing Winter Scene in 12 Easy Steps

Modeling any season can be a fun and exciting challenge, however there’s no challenge quite like a winter snow scene. Unlike other seasons, winter is unique in the variety of ways it can be replicated. From a light frost, to a heavy, fresh snowfall, the techniques required to replicate these diverse landscapes are as different as their appearance. For our scene, we wanted to replicate a moderately heavy, mountain snowfall after about 24 hours on the ground.

Step One

Once you’ve decided on your plan, secured your roadbed and track, tested your layout, and added fixed infrastructure such as tunnel portals and retaining walls, you can use your preferred method to construct the topography of the landscape. There are many tried and tested ways to do this, and no way is necessarily better than another. For the purposes of our scene, we used the traditional method of applying Woodland Scenics Plaster Cloth over a rough formation of paper, cardboard, and masking tape, mounted on a plywood base.

Step Two

Once your plaster or chosen material has dried, the next step is to paint your layout with an appropriate base color using a modeling acrylic. Consider the color of the earth tones in the geographic region you’re replicating. Are they lighter and more sandy, or darker and more earthy? We’re going with a slightly reddish umber tone, similar to what you might find in central Colorado, and since our scene will be replicating a day or so after the snowfall, we want to go a little darker to convey a slightly wet appearance. This should cover your entire layout, however since it’s a snow scene, it’s not a big issue if patches of white from the plaster are left exposed. If you’re using our landscaping method, you may need a couple of coats to fill the plaster holes.

Step Three

Once your base earth color has dried, you can come back with any other tones you wish to use, again using modeling acrylics. Consider which spots in your landscape will likely remain fully exposed, such as rock faces or cliff sides. These should be your focus with this step. If you’re planning on adding actual rocks to these locations, applying a hint of matching color will help in blending the rocks to the landscape when the scene is complete. This is also the time to add any roads or additional surfaces or large structures to your layout.

Step Four

We recommend beginning the application of scenery material by ballasting your track. This will again give you a chance to troubleshoot any running issues before more intricate scenery has been applied. Before laying the ballast, a layer of Woodland Scenics Scenic Glue or Elmer’s White Glue will need to be applied along the sides of the roadbed, making sure not to hit the ties, and spread until relatively smooth. For a more detailed look at applying realistic looking ballast, see our article on ballast application.

Step Five

Now it’s time to start applying your seasonal scenery. Often overlooked in many snow scenes, we started by adding some tufts of tall grass, secured using Woodland Scenics Scenic Glue. These tufts add an extra dimension of realism, and look great when seen sticking out from the snow. For this we used Woodland Scenics FG172 Harvest Gold field grass, as it had a muted, winter look, but there are plenty of options to choose from, including ready made tufts from JTT and Walthers. Spacing for these should have a somewhat random appearance, but take time to consider where tall, wild grass would likely be found. Once this was completed, we moved on to adding some thicker brush, again using Woodland Scenics Scenic Glue. Continuing with the muted, wintry theme, we opted to use Woodland Scenics T61 Course Yellow Turf. This material is perfect for filling nooks and smaller spaces, or for steep hillsides and cliffsides, as well as for adding variance to the height and texture of the scenery. For a final touch, we added a couple of clumps of Woodland Scenics FC57 Light Green Clusters, and Scenic Express EX8002 Natural Green Lichen to add additional variety, and a touch of winter greenery to the otherwise brown and yellow appearance of the scene.

Step Six

Once you’re satisfied with your scenic cover, some larger natural elements can be brought in. We wanted to include some rock outcrops to go along with the rugged, Colorado hillside feel, and while you can buy both premade rocks, and rock molds from Woodland Scenics, we opted to take the realism a step further by using actual rocks taken directly from outside. We placed appropriately sized and shaped variations where we wanted outcroppings to appear, and fastened them in place using an all-purpose super glue. We additionally clustered some smaller pieces at the base of the retaining wall to give a convincing “rock fall” appearance. Completing this step, we added several Woodland Scenic armatures (trees without foliage added).

Step Seven

Now that the majority of natural elements have been applied, it’s time to prepare for your surface for ground cover. In a traditional summer scene, this would be done before adding the aforementioned scenic elements, but for a snow scene, it makes more sense to do this after these have been applied, as we want the snow to accumulate on the existing scenery rather than lay beneath it. Before applying the material, we covered the majority of the scene in white glue, partially to assist with adhering the ground cover, but also to give a more textured appearance, allowing more of the painted earth tones to be visible through the snow. We additionally allowed it to accumulate in certain spots, such as at the base of the retaining wall, and in lower ground and ditches, where snow would likely build up.

Step Eight

Once a satisfactory amount of glue has been applied, you can begin to add your ground cover. Before reaching for the snow-shaker, we wanted to add a hint of existing ground cover beneath the snow. For the level space to the right of the hillside, we wanted to include a gravel parking area/track access road. For this we used a combination of fine brown ballast types to give the appropriate appearance, making sure to stick with the color tones of the region. We additionally continued this on both sides of the track to give the outer edges of the ballast a more weathered appearance. Once this was done, we covered the hillside with a light dusting of fine green turf to add to the existing earth tones painted onto the surface.

Step Nine

It’s snow time! Using a shaker of Woodland Scenics SN140 Soft Flake Snow, we applied the snow over the entire scene. While doing this, we made sure to consider how the snow would not only fall and accumulate in different areas, but how the ground beneath would affect it’s melt rate. We applied a fairly even covering to the hillside, allowing it to fall naturally and accumulate more heavily in crevices and lower, less exposed areas, and made sure that little to non stuck in the most exposed areas. When applying to the gravel and ballasted areas, we made sure to give a lighter covering, as the snow would have likely begun to melt through the gravel after a day in the sun, and in the segment of asphalt, we used a small paintbrush to gently brush it to the sides (while making sure to leave some), giving the appearance of the snow being blown off the cold surface.

Step Ten

Once your snow is applied, the last major step is to bring in your larger trees. We used Woodland Scenics TR3567 Classic Snow Dusted Trees as the dominant variety, and a couple of department store style “snow trees” to fill in the back of the scene. You can also use regular scale trees without snow simply by spraying them with a light coating of Woodland Scenics Scenic Cement before placing them on the layout at an earlier stage, allowing the snow to accumulate naturally when applying it to your layout.

Step 11

As with any layout, small details are what bring a scene to life. Adding small touches such as our railfan watching the trains from his SUV, and clutter such as the rusted rail and oil drum alongside the track will bring a final touch of realism to your scene.

Step 12

For the final touch, you’ll need to secure your scenic material by spraying it gently with Woodland Scenics Scenic Cement. If any of the natural snowfall is disturbed while doing this, simply add another dusting on top, which should adhere to the coated covering below. Once everything is secured, you’ll need to run a track eraser along the rails, clearing them of any errant snow, glue, or other materials. Once this is completed, you’ll be ready to get your layout up and running!

If you’ve tried this process and would like to share your results, send us a message on our Facebook page and we’ll share your images on social media!