It’s that time of year again, with snow falling thick and fast in the Alps the time has come for the Ski and Snowboard seasonaires to move back out to the mountains in search of powder, park and maybe a little work in between! If this is your first time heading to the hills for a winter season here are a few driving tips to keep you safe.
If you are going to be driving in winter conditions, especially on mountain roads, it’s very important you know these tips and practice them. Driving on icy roads can be exceptionally dangerous, and special techniques must be used, even if you expect the roads to be clear, you may find them to be covered with a thin film of invisible ice.
Preparation – First, make sure your car is in best general running condition, and kept fully fuelled. This is important in case you must keep the engine running to stay warm during an emergency situation. If your car is a diesel, be sure to use an “Alpine Mix” to prevent the fuel line from freezing. Make sure your anti-freeze is topped up, and your battery connections are clean and well-connected. Make sure someone in your party has a spare car key in case you lose yours.
Second, always have good quality snow chains like the ones fitted on the Subaru pictured below. Inflate your tires to the manufacturer-recommended level for snow-chain driving. Having chains fitted will also often give you priority access to otherwise closed roads at resorts. No having them may mean your journey is cut short. It’s a good idea to practice installing your tire chains before you need them.
Third, if you do slide into a ditch or embankment, you will be glad you packed a tow rope, blanket, groundsheet, shovel, warm gloves (rubber-waterproof are best), road flare or two, flashlight with spare batteries, and, of course, warm clothes in layers. Bring a cell phone and backup battery if possible.
Driving on Icy Roads
The first rule is to always to drive slowly and brake gently on icy roads. Be careful to steer gently as well and keep traction. If you lose traction, react gently – its better to be stuck in a snow drift than to have a wreck. Always keep extra distance between vehicles on the road so you have plenty of time to stop without skidding. It’s a good idea to practice driving in an empty, icy parking lot to understand the dynamics of your car.
Never drive when you cannot see the road or snow-poles along the edges of it – pull over and stop if visibility is too poor to drive safely. Travel in daylight whenever possible, as it can be hard to judge distances in the snow at night. Make sure you keep your windshield de-fogged and de-frosted. Using your air conditioner with heat on can de-humidify the inside of your car and prevent window fogging. Use your hazard lights when conditions are not good.
Always observe local speed limits and driving warnings and advisories. Clear all snow from the roof of your car, or from other areas where it might blow from your car onto other drivers. Clear ice from wheel wells before departing, and regularly afterwards – a chunk of ice dropping from one can create a serious hazard to those following you.
Drive Gently! Sudden changes in motion can cause skids or wheel spins. Try to keep your speed constant, and change direction gently. Plan ahead. Keep your momentum up. Avoid unneeded gear changes, and practice driving in the lower gears.
Watch out for snow clearing and other official vehicles. Keep well-clear of them. Do not overtake them while they are blowing snow or carrying out tasks.
You should take this very seriously. It takes some practice to drive under such weather conditions. I remember I got a ticket for texting when driving, as I forgot to read about Florida driving laws. But if I decide to drive in the Alps I would probably hire a driving instructor first. I hope they have such driving instructors.