Electromagnetic models are used as the basis for a least squares inversion technique to estimate the dry snow zone surface properties of the terrestrial ice sheets from active and passive microwave satellite data. Retrieved parameters include grain size, density, layer thickness, and accumulation rate. The prime motivation is to provide information of direct value to the Cryosat altimeter mission. The derived parameters can be used to convert from elevation change to snow mass change. They can also be used to predict geophysical retracking errors in altimeter data and to estimate the resulting uncertainty in the altimeter elevation measurement. With this technique, snow accumulation rate can also be estimated using passive microwave data. These data can then be compared to historical European Remote Sensing (ERS) satellite altimeter data in order to assess the impact of interannual variability in accumulation rate on the significance of rates of elevation change. The technique is in the preliminary stages of assessment, but is demonstrated using ERS-2 altimeter data in conjunction with spatio-temporally colocated Special Sensor Microwave/Imager (SSM/I) and QuikSCAT data. It is planned to apply the technique ultimately to Cryosat.