Freezing and thawing processes play an important role for the gravitational transport of surface materials on steep mountain slopes in Japan. The effects of deforestation on frost heave activity were observed through the 2012/2013 winter season in Ikawa University Forest, a southern mountainous area in central Japan (1180–1310 m above sea level). During periods without snow cover, needle ice development prevailed at a clear-cut site, and the downslope sediment movement of upper soil was 10 to 15 cm through the winter season. At a non-cut site, rise and fall in the ground surface level prevailed on a weekly scale, with no evident downslope movements at the surface; ice lens formation in the soil layer is assumed. Abrupt changes in the radiation budget, such as the strengthening of nighttime radiative cooling and increases in daytime direct insolation, induced frequent development/deformation of needle ice at the clear-cut site. In snow-free periods, the day-to-day variability in needle ice growth length and in nighttime averaged net radiation showed significant correlations; cloudy weather with warmer and moist air intrusion associated with synoptic disturbances prevented the occurrence of needle ice. Namely, day-to-day weather changes directly affected the mass movement of the upper soil after deforestation. Shallow snow cover occurred discontinuously through the winter and is likely an important factor in keeping the soil moisture sufficiently high in the upper soil layer for initiating needle ice during snow-free periods. We also discuss contributions of coastal extratropical cyclone activities providing both snow cover and cloudy weather in the southern mountain areas of central Japan to the intra-seasonal variability in frost heave and its indirect effect on soil creep and landslides on the deforested steep slopes. Copyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.