During the 2010/11 boreal winter, a distributed set of backscatter measurements was collected using a ground-based Ku-band (17.2 GHz) scatterometer system at 26 open tundra sites. A standard snow-sampling procedure was completed after each scan to evaluate local variability in snow layering, depth, density and water equivalent (SWE) within the scatterometer field of view. The shallow depths and large basal depth hoar encountered presented an opportunity to evaluate backscatter under a set of previously untested conditions. Strong Ku-band response was found with increasing snow depth and snow water equivalent (SWE). In particular, co-polarized vertical backscatter increased by 0.82 dB for every 1 cm increase in SWE (R
2 = 0.62). While the result indicated strong potential for Ku-band retrieval of shallow snow properties, it did not characterize the influence of sub-scan variability. An enhanced snow-sampling procedure was introduced to generate detailed characterizations of stratigraphy within the scatterometer field of view using near-infrared photography along the length of a 5 m trench. Changes in snow properties along the trench were used to discuss variations in the collocated backscatter response. A pair of contrasting observation sites was used to highlight uncertainties in backscatter response related to short length scale spatial variability in the observed tundra environment.