An accurate simulation of snowmelt runoff is of much importance in arid alpine regions. Data availability is usually an obstacle to use energy-based snowmelt models for the snowmelt runoff simulation, and temperature-based snowmelt models are more appealing in these regions. The snow runoff model is very popular nowadays, especially in the data sparse regions, because only temperature, precipitation and snow cover data are required for inputs to the model. However, this model uses average temperature as index, which cannot reflect the snowmelt simulation in the high altitude band. In this study, the snow runoff model is modified on the basis of accumulated active temperature. Snow cover calculation algorithm is added and is no longer needed as input but output. This makes the model able to simulate long-time runoff and long-time snow cover variation in every band. An examination of the improved model in the Manas River basin showed that the model is effective. It can reproduce the behaviour of the hydrology and can reflect the actual snow cover fluctuation. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.