What slope angle favours the development of katabatic flow is still an open question. Some studies have clarified that katabatic winds are stronger on steep slopes, while others have demonstrated that katabatic winds are stronger on gentle slopes. Here, we explore the control mechanisms of katabatic flow using a simplified theoretical model in an attempt to clarify the causes of the paradoxical findings. Our results indicate that optimal conditions for katabatic flows within canopies are synergistically controlled by terrain angle, canopy structure and thermal condition through a simple equation:
LcVT-2 sin3 α = b,
where α is terrain slope, Lc = 1/(cDa) is canopy length‐scale, cD is drag coefficient, a is leaf area density, VT = Rc/ γ is a thermal factor, Rc is a cooling rate, γ is ambient lapse rate, and b is a constant. This theoretical prediction implies that gentle slopes are optimal for katabatic flow developments in stably stratified air while steep slopes are optimal in weak or near‐neutral stratification. Canopy effect is significant in the control of katabatic flows only on gentle slopes.