The coupling between air and ground temperatures in the mountains of southern Norway was examined using 12 shallow boreholes drilled in August 2008. Three borehole arrays (at Juvvass, Jetta and Tron), each with boreholes at different elevations, were established along a continentality gradient. At the least continental site (Juvvass), the transect includes boreholes with shallow seasonal frost to continuous permafrost, while at Jetta and Tron, the arrays covered the transition from relatively deep seasonal frost to marginal permafrost. On the north slope of Tron, however, ground surface temperatures indicate more widespread permafrost conditions, apparently due to the negative thermal anomaly associated with an openwork block field. The surface offsets (mean ground surface temperature (MGST) minus mean air temperature (MAT)) ranged from < 1 °C for unvegetated wind-scoured sites to up to 4.5 °C for sites with a thick, prolonged snow cover. Active-layer thicknesses at the borehole sites close to the lower limit of mountain permafrost were up to 10 m in bedrock, even under a low thermal diffusivity sediment cover. The mean ground temperature at 10-m depth differed significantly from the MGST, mainly due to the 3D thermal effects of the varying snow cover. Our air temperature measurements do not support the inference that the observed decrease in the lower elevational limit of mountain permafrost with continentality is mainly due to lower MAT. Rather, the pattern fits with an eastwards decrease in the lower limit of block fields and snowfall amounts. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.