Spring is coming in the countryside but the snow lingers on the mountains - the result of Spring Beauty's liaison with Grandfather Frost, which has caused a confusion of the seasons. Together they have conceived a "snow daughter", Snegourotchka. To protect her from the Sun god, who wants to take her heart of ice, her parents entrust her to a couple of peasants in the land of the Berendeyans. Before leaving, Grandfather Frost orders Leshy, the wood-sprite, to look after his daughter in the world of humans.
In the land of the Berendeyans, the shepherd Lel's songs awaken an unknown sensation in Snegourotchka, for her heart of ice does not yet know love. She has become a friend of Koupava, who is betrothed to the rich merchant Mizguir. But when the latter sees the Snow Maiden, he immediately falls in love with her and forgets his fiancee. The villagers advise Koupava to seek justice from the Tsar himself.
Tsar Berendei is worried by the ever-shorter summers and the colder and colder spring seasons. He has therefore decided to wed as soon as possible all the young people of marriageable age in order to warm the hearts of men. At the same time, Koupava comes to complain about the rejection she has suffered. The Tsar summons Mizguir, who replies that he now loves Snegourotchka. The young girl appears in turn. Charmed by her beauty, the Tsar asks whom she loves but she is unable to reply. He thus decides that the man capable of warming Snegourotchka's heart will be permitted to marry her.
In the forest, the Berendeyans rejoice at the coming feast of the Sun. Lel delights the assembly with his songs and the Tsar promises him the most beautiful girl in the village. The shepherd chooses Koupava. Aggrieved, Snegourotchka flees. Mizguir follows her and declares his love, but the young girl, terrified, rejects him. The wood-sprite manages to lead Mizguir away. Lel and Koupava declare their mutual love, awakening a hitherto unknown feeling of jealousy in the Snow Maiden.
Snegourotchka comes to ask her mother for advice and
begs her to teach her what love is. Spring Beauty accepts whilst warning her
against the Sun god. Snegourotchka finds Mizguir and finally lets herself be
subjugated by love. While the young couple prepare to be married by the Tsar,
the first ray of sunlight touches Snegourotchka who immediately melts, whilst a
desperate Mizghir throws himself into the lake. The Tsar calms his frightened
subjects: thanks to what has happened, the Sun has just put an end to fifteen
years of winter.