A series of experiments are described that examine the sensitivity of the northern-hemisphere winter evolution to the equatorial quasi-biennial oscillation (QBO). The prime tool for the experiments is a stratosphere-mesosphere model. The model is integrated over many years with the modelled equatorial winds relaxed towards observed values in order to simulate a realistic QBO. In experiment A the equatorial winds are relaxed towards Singapore radiosonde observations in the height region 16-32 km. In contrast to previous modelling studies, the Holton-Tan relationship (warm/cold winters associated with easterly/westerly QBO winds in the lower stratosphere) is absent. However, in a second experiment (run B) in which the equatorial winds are relaxed towards rocketsonde data over the extended height range 16-58 km, a realistic Holton-Tan relationship is reproduced. A series of further studies are described that explore in more detail the sensitivity to various equatorial height regions and to the bottom-boundary forcing. The experiments suggest that the evolution of the northern-hemisphere winter circulation is sensitive to equatorial winds throughout the whole depth of the stratosphere and not just to the lower-stratospheric wind direction as previously assumed.