Cold-induced mortality is a key factor driving mountain pine beetle, Dendroctonus ponderosae, population dynamics. In this species, the supercooling point (SCP) is representative of mortality induced by acute cold exposure. Mountain pine beetle SCP and associated cold-induced mortality fluctuate throughout a generation, with the highest SCPs prior to and following winter. Using observed SCPs of field-collected D. ponderosae larvae throughout the developmental season and associated phloem temperatures, we developed a mechanistic model that describes the SCP distribution of a population as a function of daily changes in the temperature-dependent processes leading to gain and loss of cold tolerance. It is based on the changing proportion of individuals in three states: (1) a non cold-hardened, feeding state, (2) an intermediate state in which insects have ceased feeding, voided their gut content and eliminated as many ice-nucleating agents as possible from the body, and (3) a fully cold-hardened state where insects have accumulated a maximum concentration of cryoprotectants (e.g. glycerol). Shifts in the proportion of individuals in each state occur in response to the driving variables influencing the opposite rates of gain and loss of cold hardening. The level of cold-induced mortality predicted by the model and its relation to extreme winter temperature is in good agreement with a range of field and laboratory observations. Our model predicts that cold tolerance of D. ponderosae varies within a season, among seasons, and among geographic locations depending on local climate. This variability is an emergent property of the model, and has important implications for understanding the insect's response to seasonal fluctuations in temperature, as well as population response to climate change. Because cold-induced mortality is but one of several major influences of climate on D. ponderosae population dynamics, we suggest that this model be integrated with others simulating the insect's biology.