With winter here, and a pile of snow in the forecast, I thought it would be appropriate to share some of my most helpful tips for getting around safely when there is snow on the road. Driving in snow doesn’t have to ruin your fun, but planning ahead and preparing for snowy conditions can be the difference between reaching your destination, or finding yourself stuck in a ditch!
Take Your Time!
This should really go without saying, but the fastest way to get in trouble in the snow is to go fast! All kidding aside… speed causes more problems than anything else. Remember, just because you can reach an impressive speed doesn’t mean you can control your vehicle at that speed! And controlling your vehicle is the most important factor in getting to your destination safely. Allow extra time to reach your destination, and if you see you’re not going to get there when you thought… it really is okay! Better to get there late than to not get there at all!
Wait for the Snowplow!
If you find yourself standing in the driveway looking at 4″ of snow on the road, you really should just stay put until the snowplow comes by (unless you have a four-wheel-drive with good snow tires). It will be a lot easier to drive once some of that depth is plowed off, and a mixture of salt and gravel spread. Our cabins are located just a few miles from the slopes at Wintergreen, but it can seem like the longest distance in the world if the road is really slick. The simplest (and safest) thing you can do is to stay put. It won’t be that long before the plow will come by. Our road is an emergency route for Wintergreen Resort, so the Department of Transportation works extra hard to keep it drivable.
Allow Extra Distance for Stopping (More than you think you need)!
Even if you can get up to a reasonably fast speed, and even if you have four-wheel-drive, it will take a lot longer to stop than you think. Allow plenty of distance between you and the vehicle in front, and slow down way before you come to that stop sign. The same goes for curves. A side note here… did you know that one of the most common vehicles to see in the ditch is a four-wheel-drive SUV? That is because SUV owners often think that having four-wheel-drive makes them impervious to the laws of physics. Yet it takes just as long to stop a four-wheel-drive in the snow as it does a normal car!
Because it takes so long to stop, the most difficult part of driving in the snow-covered mountains is going downhill. When you have to go downhill, CREEEEEEEP……..! I mean it! Even if you have four-wheel-drive. Even if you think you can control it. You never know what will be blocking the road when you come around that corner, and you’ll want to be able to stop. And it will take a lot longer to stop going downhill. A trick I use here if the road is especially slippery is to drive with two wheels off the road. This gives a little extra traction in case I need to stop.
Go Faster Uphill!
When going uphill, the danger is that you’ll lose traction, spin your tires, and start to slide backwards. This is the only place I recommend speeding up, but you’ll still want to use common sense. You should accelerate to a speed that will help you reach the top of the incline, but no faster. And if your tires start spinning and you stop going forward, put your car in reverse and back slowly down the hill until you reach level ground. Then you can decide if you want to try again, choose another route, or wait for that snowplow!
Let Your Wheels Roll!
If you start to slide, and you need to turn, take your foot off the brake! You have no steering ability unless the front tires are rolling. So you have to let them roll, then apply brake pressure lightly, then let them roll again. If you hold the brake and lock your wheels, you’ll continue sliding with no ability to change direction!
Check Your Shoes!
Your car’s shoes, that is. The most important part of keeping your car under control when driving in snow is the contact point between the tires and the road. Make sure before heading out that you have plenty of tread. A good, all-season radial with nice, deep tread will go a long way in providing traction and stability. Snow tires are even better, but not normally necessary. For years we didn’t even have a four-wheel-drive. We just kept good tires on our vehicle, and got around just fine at Cabin Creekwood.
Pack a Blanket!
…And a heavy coat, and a pair of boots. In the event of a mishap, you may find that you need to walk for help, or to push your car out of a ditch. If you do, you’ll regret just throwing on a pair of tennis shoes! Other items that can be useful include a flashlight, a shovel, and a bag of gravel or kitty litter for traction.
Clear Your Windows
Being able to see all around you is critical to getting around safely. Take the time to clear off not just the windshield, but all side windows and the rear window as well. A tip on making this easier… start your car and turn on warm defrost and rear defrost. Then go back inside and enjoy a cup of coffee. When you come back out, bring a broom, and you’ll find that the snow and ice sweep away easily. Cleaning off your hood is a good idea too, as snow left on the hood will blow onto your windshield when you start driving, making it difficult to see.
Driving in snow doesn’t have to put a damper on your mountain getaway. Following these few simple tips can help you get around safely, even when the road is covered with snow.