Crypto Winter

Crypto winter refers to extended periods of declining cryptocurrency prices and demand.

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The cryptocurrency market is known for its volatility and cycles of booms and busts. One phase that traders and investors alike dread is crypto winter - a period of prolonged bearish sentiment leading to declining prices across digital assets.

But what exactly causes these crypto winters? What happens during these extended cryptocurrency bear markets? And how long do they last? This comprehensive guide provides an overview of crypto winters, their characteristics, causes, historical examples, and tips for surviving the blockchain ice age.

What is Crypto Winter?

The term “crypto winter” refers to an extended period in which crypto market prices are in steep decline. This is accompanied by waning interest and activity in the cryptocurrency space, leading to depressed demand and trading volumes.

Crypto winters are essentially the opposite of crypto manias, where hype and speculative investment pump prices up unsustainably. They are analogous to the concept of a regular economic winter, where business activity slows down.

There is no formal definition or fixed time period that constitutes a crypto winter. However, it is generally recognized as a bear market lasting for months or even years, rather than a short-term crash over weeks.

The affected market tends to see falling prices across major cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum as well as smaller altcoins. Media and public interest in crypto also drops during these periods.

Characteristics of Crypto Winters

Some key characteristics that define crypto winters include:

  • Prolonged price declines: The market downturn extends for a long time rather than recovering quickly. There is no clear price floor in sight.
  • Lack of liquidity: Trading volumes and buy activity dry up as demand evaporates, leading to an illiquid market. Large sell orders move prices more severely.
  • Negative sentiment: Both retail and institutional investors become pessimistic and averse to risk as losses mount. The crypto fear and greed index trends lower.
  • Decreasing public interest: As crypto asset values stagnate, media coverage and public attention drops compared to bull markets. Hype evaporates.
  • Shuttered companies: Prolonged low prices make many crypto ventures unprofitable, leading to layoffs, bankruptcies, and projects shutting down.
  • Minimal price recovery: Any small rebounds reverse back to lower lows quickly as the market remains depressed overall.

The last major crypto winter from 2018-2020 saw Bitcoin prices fall over 80% from their peak and not recover for years. The market had to reset after the previous speculative bubble popped.

What Factors Can Trigger a Crypto Winter?

Crypto winters don’t happen randomly. Various external and internal factors can tank prices and lead cryptocurrency markets into prolonged bearishness. These include:

External Factors

  • Macroeconomic issues: Economic recessions, inflation crises, global conflicts, and other issues disincentivize risky asset investments like crypto. Investors flock to safe havens.
  • Regulatory changes: New laws banning cryptocurrency use, trading, marketing, and mining can crater adoption and prices, as happened in China.
  • Stock market crashes: Major drops in equities and commodities can create an overall depressed financial environment where crypto also declines.

Internal Factors

  • Unsustainable hype: Speculative manias pump crypto far beyond reasonable valuations, leading to stronger mean reversion crashes.
  • Exchange issues: Major hacks, frauds, or other issues that reduce trust in exchanges negatively impact market sentiment.
  • ICO failures: Billions poured into scammy or failed ICO projects during the 2018 bull market overheated the crypto space and led to a larger crash.
  • Technical weaknesses: Network outages, scaling failures, and other tech issues can shake confidence and lower prices for affected cryptocurrencies.
  • Infighting and conflicts: High-profile disputes over protocol changes between developers, miners, and the community can divide cryptocurrencies.

Oftentimes it’s a combination of multiple external and internal factors that finally triggers the plunge into a crypto winter after a bull market tops out.

Looking at Previous Crypto Winter Examples

There have been two major crypto winters since Bitcoin’s creation that can illustrate their characteristics:

The 2018-2020 Crypto Winter

Bitcoin and crypto prices soared in 2017, with Bitcoin approaching $20,000 and crypto market cap exceeding $800 billion in the mania. However, the speculative bubble popped in early 2018, leading to a prolonged bear market.

Prices for Bitcoin and altcoins would decline over 80% on average in the coming months. The total crypto market cap bottomed below $250 billion in September 2018.

The market remained trapped in a depressive range through 2018 and 2019, only recovering in mid-2020. This crypto winter lasted over 18 months as the excesses of the previous bull market were flushed out of the system.

The Current 2022 Crypto Winter

The latest crypto bull market peaked in late 2021, with Bitcoin topping $68,000 and total crypto market cap exceeding $3 trillion.

However, a combination of macroeconomic issues like rising inflation and interest rates coupled with internal crypto factors like the Terra/Luna collapse led to a severe crash starting in early 2022.

As of mid-2022, Bitcoin and Ethereum have shed 60% from their all-time high prices. The total crypto market cap has fallen below $1 trillion. There is not yet a definitive time frame for when this current crypto winter may thaw.

Historically, these depressed crypto market periods tend to last 12 to 24 months on average before a new bull market emerges. Patience is key to navigating the choppy waters during crypto winters.

Surviving Crypto Winter and Preparing for Recovery

For investors and industry participants, crypto winters can be challenging periods full of tough decisions. Here are some tips for surviving the bear markets and preparing for an eventual turnaround:

  • Explore non-correlated assets: Seek out alternative crypto assets and markets uncorrelated with the overall direction of Bitcoin to diversify holdings.
  • Focus on building and adoption: Winter can be a productive time to build technology and grow user adoption to better position projects to benefit when prices recover.
  • Reduce risk-taking: Consider de-risking by lowering position sizes, taking some profit off the table, and waiting for clear trend changes to re-enter.
  • Assess fundamentals: Separate viable long-term projects with real-world utility from ones with questionable fundamentals unlikely to survive.
  • Stay patient: Maintain a long-term mindset and stick to a solid investment thesis and crypto allocation through volatile periods.

While crypto winters wipe out many speculative traders, patients investors with strong conviction in blockchain technology often have the opportunity to build meaningful positions during these bearish cycles.


In conclusion, crypto winters describe prolonged bear markets with suppressed prices and demand that can last over a year. They are triggered by external macro factors and internal events like unsustainable speculation and exchange issues.

Previous winters like 2014-2015 and 2018-2020 saw Bitcoin decline 80% or more for months, inflicting pain on the crypto industry. The current 2022 winter also represents a strong mean reversion after the euphoria of 2021.

Yet for all their severity, crypto winters are ultimately temporary cycles. The innovative blockchain projects and global user bases powering top cryptocurrencies continue growing behind the scenes even as prices stagnate during these down periods.

While timing the end of a crypto winter is impossible, staying informed on market cycles and utilizing smart risk management provides the best odds of navigating bear markets effectively as an investor. Time in the market beats timing the market - with patience, the spring will eventually follow even the most brutal crypto winter.