Perennial snowfields are generally receding worldwide, though the precise mechanisms causing recessions are not always well understood. Here we apply a numerical snowpack model to identify the leading factors controlling the mass balance of two perennial snowfields that have significant human interest: Arapaho glacier, located at Niwot Ridge in the Colorado Rocky Mountains (United States), and a snowfield located in the Ulaan Taiga (Mongolia). The two locations were chosen because they differ in elevation, slope and aspect. However, both have sub-arctic climates and are located within semi-arid regions. We show that for these two locations the snowfield mass balance is primarily sensitive to air temperature and wind speed, followed by precipitation and dust deposition amounts. We find that the sensitivities are similar for the center of the snowfield as well as the margins.