Structural characteristics of Abies mariesii M.T. Mast. saplings growing in sun and shade in a snowy subalpine parkland in central Japan were assessed to infer how saplings acclimate to suppression by larger individuals in a conifer clump and to extremely snowy conditions. Sun and shade saplings produced structurally different current-year shoots, and allocated biomass to needles and stem differently. Compared with sun saplings, shoots of shade saplings had lower needle mass per unit shoot size, which indicates less dense needle packing and more effective use of the limited available light by avoiding mutual shading among needles. Biomass allocation within lateral branches also differed between sun and shade saplings. Compared with sun saplings, needle mass was a smaller proportion of total branch mass in shade saplings although shade saplings retained needles for longer, thereby compensating, in part, for their lower annual production of needles. Thus shade saplings incur a high mechanical cost to support their low-light acclimated, conspicuously flattened crowns in this snowy habitat. Suppressed saplings are an important component of the persistent conifer clumps in snowy subalpine parklands. The observed structural characteristics of A. mariesii saplings, which ensure high shade- and snow-tolerance, contribute to the dominance of the species in snowy subalpine regions in Honshu, Japan.