Feast your eyes on these powder paradises as the snowy season hits us in full swing. These are the top ten snowiest cities on Earth for those who want to experience 6-metre-high snow corridors, architectural wonders built in snow, and ‘snow monsters’ – the ghostly-looking piles of snow that engulf trees in Japanese forests, making them look like valleys of icy ghouls.
Japan takes the cake for being the country most pummelled with powder overall. The other two cities that make our top ten list are in Canada and the US, and all of their annual snowfall figures can be measured in metres!
We’ve thrown in some highlights for each of these winter gems, for your general knowledge or to entice you into taking a trip to another side of the world. If you are, you’ll definitely be needing to kit yourself out. Ski jackets, salopettes, fleece clothing and backpacks should all be on your list if you decide to brave the cold and visit these snowy wonderlands.
1. Aomori City, Japan
Average snowfall: 669cm per year
Record snowfall: 1,263cm (in 1986)
Known for: Production of apples, sake and fresh seafood
Aomori City is the most prominent city in the geographic belt where heavy, long-lasting snowfall occurs in Japan – otherwise known as ‘snow country’. Holding several world records for snow, Aomori City’s incredible snowfall levels arise from cold air blowing from Siberia and Northeast Asia, picking up moisture over the Sea of Japan and falling as heavy precipitation on the Japanese Isles as it hits the mountainous peaks of the west coast.
2. Sapporo, Japan
Average snowfall: 597cm per year
Record snowfall: 680cm (in 1996)
Known for: Its annual snow festival, ramen and Sapporo beer
The largest city on the list, Sapporo is a mecca for all things snow-related. It rightly hosted the Winter Olympic Games in 1972 and organises the Sapporo Snow Festival each year, welcoming two million tourists to one of the major snow festivals in the world. Visitors are treated to stunning displays of snow sculptures and traditional arts, such as dancing geishas, in subzero temperatures. You can even bump into a gigantic Pikachu made out of snowflakes if you’re lucky enough.
3. Toyama, Japan
Average snowfall: 363cm per year
Known for: World Heritage Site of Gassho-style houses in Gokayama Historic Village, many traditional festivals held all year round
Toyama receives not piles of snow, but metre-high stacks of it. The complex weather systems characterising this region of Japan are once again responsible for the city’s staggering snowfall each winter, and these operate not unlike the ‘lake effect’ snow that slams the US cities further down on this list. The city and its surrounding areas are renowned for their natural beauty and adherence to traditional Japanese culture, making for a truly immersive experience.
4. St John’s, Canada
Average snowfall: 335cm per year
Record snowfall: 599.8cm (in 2001)
Known for: Its historical significance; the inventor of radio, Guglielmo Marconi, received the first transatlantic wireless signal in the city
Shovelling snow efficiently is a skill you have to have if you’re part of St John’s population. The port city is believed to be the oldest in North America – arising from the first wave of European settlers – and is also the easternmost on the North American continent. It’s a significant historical and cultural hub, and the oceanic climate ensures that in winter there’s always a heavy frosting to make the city’s activities a tad more picturesque (or challenging!).
5. Quebec City, Canada
Average snowfall: 303cm per year
Record snowfall: 500cm (in 2008)
Known for: Its majority French-speaking population and bilingualism, a vibrant arts and culture scene
Quebec City is home to the Quebec Winter Carnival, a cornucopia of snow-focused activities lighting up the city with excitement every year. There’s never any shortage of the white stuff at this French-Canadian cultural heavyweight of a city, with the previous record being broken in 2008 by a total season snowfall that reached to the whopping height of five metres. That is almost two storeys high!
6. Syracuse, US
Average snowfall: 297cm per year
Record snowfall: 488cm (in 1993)
Known for: Harsh ‘lake effect’ snowfall from Lake Ontario, distinct geography including unique hillocks called ‘drumlins’ formed from the end of the last Ice Age
Apart from the massive snowfall it receives year in, year out, Syracuse is famed for its prestigious post-secondary educational institutions, including a top-class university. We mentioned the intensity of ‘lake effect’ snow before, and Syracuse is definitely the best example of this climactic and geographical phenomenon. Cold air from northerly Canada travels downwards over Lake Ontario and Onondaga Lake, picking up high levels of moisture that is finally deposited as heavy snow over the city.
7. Saguenay, Canada
Average snowfall: 312cm per year
Known for: Snowshoeing, winter fishing on ice in fjords, the village on ice of ‘Village sur glace de Roberval’
From the oldest settlement in North America to one of the newest, Saguenay is a relatively infant city, having only been established in 2002. The city is a merger of Chicoutimi, Jonquière, La Baie and Laterrière, housing 144,000 Francophones living close to the Saguenay River and Lac Saint-Jean. There are no roads connecting Saguenay to Northern Quebec, as the climate gets too extreme even for the locals, but the list of snow activities you can try is comprehensive.
8. Akita, Japan
Average snowfall: 272cm per year
Known for: Being home to the largest canvas painting in the world, samurai villages and hot springs
Akita is bombarded with precipitation all year round; 66% of its calendar year features snowfall or rainfall. This doesn’t deter the city from being a major centre of Japanese culture, with the perfectly preserved samurai district of Kakunodate lying close by. The Akita Museum of Art possesses an eclectic selection of works and the open hot springs carved within the snowy banks are a one-of-a-kind experience.
9. Rochester, US
Average snowfall: 253cm per year
Record snowfall: 411cm (in 1960)
Known for: Being the ‘flower city’ and the ‘flour city’ thanks to the Lilac Festival and its history as one of the premier milling sites in the region
A city in close proximity to the Big Apple and neighbouring Canada, south of Lake Ontario, Rochester is yet another beneficiary (or victim, depending on how you see it) of ‘lake effect’ snow. Rochester has experienced many a destructive blizzard throughout its history, with a number of casualties reported in the Great Blizzard of 1977. Since then, snowfall levels have decreased but it remains the snowiest US city after Syracuse.
10. Buffalo, US
Average snowfall: 273cm per year
Record snowfall: 309cm (in 2014)
Known for: Its famous chicken wings and buffalo hot sauce combo, striking architecture from the Art Deco era
Buffalo has somewhat of a fiercely proud reputation for snow, with its residents and local authorities claiming superior snow crisis management skills when the white stuff won’t stop falling. It beats most Canadian cities in the amount of snowfall it receives on a yearly basis, although in 2015 the city set a record for lack of snowfall which hadn’t been observed since 1899. ‘Lake effect’ snow is once again the culprit behind Buffalo’s record amounts, but the city has outlawed the throwing of snowballs except in designated areas. They take their snow very seriously here!
Have you visited any of these places or would you like to? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.