In mountainous regions, wind plays a prominent role in determining snow accumulation patterns and turbulent heat exchanges, strongly affecting the timing and magnitude of snowmelt runoff. In this study, digital terrain analysis was employed to quantify aspects of the upwind topography related to wind shelter and exposure, to efficiently develop a distributed time-series of snow accumulation rates and wind speeds to force a distributed snow model. Parameters are presented that determined each grid cell's topographic exposure and potential for drift development relative to observed winds. Using meteorological data taken from both an exposed and a sheltered site in the Reynolds Mountain East watershed (0·38 km2) in southwestern Idaho, the terrain parameters were used to distribute rates of snow accumulation and wind speeds at an hourly time step for input to ISNOBAL, an energy and mass balance snow model. Model runs were initiated prior to the development of the seasonal snow cover and continued through complete meltout for the 1986 (precipitation 128% of average), 1987 (66%), and 1989 (108%) water years. A comprehensive dataset consisting of a time series of aerial photographs taken during meltout, measured runoff, and snow data from the sheltered meteorological site were used to validate the simulations. ISNOBAL forced with accumulation rates and wind fields generated from the applied terrain parameterizations accurately modelled the observed snow distribution (including the formation of drifts and scoured wind-exposed ridges) and snowmelt runoff for all three years of study. By contrast, ISNOBAL forced with spatially constant accumulation rates and wind speeds taken from the sheltered meteorological site, a typical snow-monitoring site, overestimated peak snowmelt inputs and tended to underestimate snowmelt inputs prior to the runoff peak. Published in 2002 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.