10 of the Snowiest Places on the Planet

High-angle view of Shirakawa-go covered in snow
The historic village of Shirakawa-go, Japan, gets about 400 inches of snow per year. Nanut Bovorn / Getty Images

While much of the world endures a short and tolerable snow season, annoying only for the icing over of sidewalks and car windshields, some places receive hundreds of inches of white powder per year. What causes their surplus of winter precipitation? Location. Some, like Chamonix in France and Mount Rainier National Park in Washington, are perched high in the mountains, while others, like St. John's in Canada and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, border big bodies of water, increasing snowfall.

Precipitation varies from year to year, of course, but these are 10 of the snowiest places on the planet, from the coast of East Asia to the U.S. Midwest.

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Mount Rainier National Park

Climbers ascending snowy mountain in Mount Rainier National Park

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According to the National Park Service, the Paradise area at Washington's Mount Rainier National Park (5,400 feet above sea level) once held the world record for measured snowfall in a single year. In the 1971 to 1972 season, an impressive 1,122 inches of snow fell. The area is prone to powder because low-pressure systems that travel eastward from the Gulf of Alaska are intensified by cyclonic circulation in the atmosphere and the warm air they meet in the lower mountains. The result? An average of more than 600 inches of snowfall throughout the perpetually cold year.

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Shirakawa-go covered in snow and lit up in winter
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The historic village of Shirakawa-go, Japan, is a mountain town known for its steep forests and traditional farmhouse building style known as gasshō-zukuri, which features thatched roofs built to withstand an annual average of more than 400 inches of snow. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Shirakawa-go celebrates the snowy landscape in winter by organizing illumination events in January and February that attract tourists to see the traditional homes lit up in the snow.

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Snowy rooftops in Chamonix during a winter evening
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The famous French ski resort Chamonix, perched in the frigid-yet-picturesque Alps, could be the snowiest place in Europe. The town sits in the shadow of Mont Blanc, the "white mountain," and was the site of the first Winter Olympics in 1924. Now averaging about 400 inches of snow per year, Chamonix is a globally celebrated destination for skiing and other winter sports.

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Mount Washington

Sunrise on the summit of Mt. Washington, covered in snow
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Proudly calling itself the "Home of the World's Worst Weather," the Mount Washington Observatory in New Hampshire gets a whopping 378 inches of precipitation annually, and about three-quarters of it is snow, hail, ice pellets, and hail. The peak is conveniently—or inconveniently—at the intersection of three weather fronts: Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific Northwest.

Hurricane-force winds whip through the range for a third of the year. Because of said winds, the snow usually gets blown into nearby ravines instead of sticking to the ground. Mount Washington's snowiest months are December and January, bringing in more than 40 inches each.

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Skiers look down an exposed ridge in Valdez

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The snowiest city in the U.S. is said to be Valdez, Alaska. Surrounded by the Chugach Mountains, it receives about 327 inches between September and May. Its snowiest month, December, averages 72 inches.

Winter, although harsh, is Valdez's most economically fruitful season. The snow and alpine environment together make it a hotspot for heli-skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, ice climbing, fat biking, and cross-country skiing. Valdez is an adventure-seeker's paradise.

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Aomori City

Snowy Mt. Hakkoda and forest in Aomori City

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Nestled between Aomori Bay, Mutsu Bay, and the Hakkōda Mountains, Aomori City, Japan, gets walloped with about 250 inches of snow a year due to its high elevation and proximity to the ocean. It gets, on average, 110 snowy days annually; the powder has at times formed a wall nearly three feet tall. During the long cold season, the national highway, the Hakkoda-Towada Gold Line, shuts down and public transportation becomes useless. About 300,000 Aomori City residents put up with the extreme weather patterns.

The city's name translates to mean "blue forest," because of the oceans and lakes that surround the lush greenery (when it isn't covered in snow, that is).

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Houghton and Hancock

Snow-covered residential street in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Sorayot Chinkanjanarot / Shutterstock

Houghton and Hancock sit across from each other on the narrow end of Portage Lake on Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula. The sister cities receive an impressive 175 inches of snow per year, on average. Precipitation (including rain and hail, too) falls 150 days out of the year. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is sandwiched between the Great Lakes of Michigan, Superior, and Huron, making it extra prone to lake-effect snow. Because of all that winter precipitation, Houghton and Hancock are popular destinations for snowmobiling, skiing, and other outdoor sports.

What Is Lake-Effect Snow?

Lake-effect snow is snow that occurs as a result of cold, dry air passing over unfrozen Great Lakes, picking up and elevating water vapor to a colder environment. This causes the water vapor to freeze and come back down as snow onshore.

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Crowds in front of a snow sculpture in Sapporo
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Besides being a beer capital, Sapporo, Japan, is also known for its snowfall—averaging more than 130 inches per year—which the city celebrates with a Snow Festival each February. The festival, famous for its massive snow-sculpture building contest, attracts millions of tourists and features more than 200 snow and ice sculptures. The festival is terribly cold and slippery, unsurprisingly, so thermal underwear and shoes with traction are highly recommended.

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St. John's

Snow covering Jelly Bean Row in St. John's

Adrian J Warren / Getty Images

St. John's, the capital and largest city in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, gets about 127 inches of snow per year. The coastal city recorded its snowiest day since at least 1942 during January 2020's Snowmageddon, when it received a crippling 30 inches that sent the area into a week-long state of emergency. Military troops were deployed to help dig residents out. The storm topped the previous record of 27 inches from April 1999. (Yes, the snow persists through April.)

The oldest and most eastern city in North America, St. John's also has a reputation as the cloudiest, foggiest, and windiest Canadian city.

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Snowy village and icy lake on the outskirts of Saguenay

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Deemed a snowmobiler's paradise, Saguenay is one of Canada's snowiest cities, receiving an average of about 90 inches per year. It's located 200 miles west of the capital of Quebec City and is a relative newcomer, just established in 2002 as a merger between municipalities and cities, including Chicoutimi, Jonquière, and La Baie. Its position near Lake Saint-Jean is perhaps to thank for its susceptibility to winter storms. In any case, the powder is ideal for snowmobiling, the city's most popular pastime.