Part of being a skier means dealing with stuff that, though important to the sport, doesn’t necessarily take place on the hill.
Take winter driving. The same weather that brings great ski conditions can make getting to the mountain a white knuckle experience. But if you want to ski, you really don’t have a choice (‘oh, it’s a powder day, I think I’ll just stay home.’ Yeah, right.)
Which means you have to be prepared. You have to know how to handle the worst winter can dish out. For starters, this means having a car that’s reliable and snow-capable. I have a Subaru, the unofficial state car of Vermont. And I’m only half kidding. Everyone around here has one. It has four-wheel drive, plenty of room, and it’s not an SUV so it’s good on gas. All pluses, in my book. On top of that, I replaced the stock all-season tires with some really good snow tires. Winter is a serious business here. Trust me, you don’t want to take chances.
So in the interest of improving your on-the-road safety, here are some tips that can help you get to the mountain without incident:
Check the road conditions before you go. I’ve been on roads that have been closed by the state police, and believe me, they’re closed for a reason. If a road isn’t open, stay off. And if it says “chains required,” for God’s sake, use them.
Clean off your car. This is so basic it should go without saying, yet I still see lots of people driving with just a peep hole cleared on their windshields, or a foot of snow on their hoods or roofs. Not safe. Snow on the hood can blow onto the windshield and obstruct your vision. And snow on the roof can fly off and impair the vision of the driver behind you. So if not for yourself, please be courteous and clear off the blasted snow.
Keep your washer fluid reservoir full. And make sure you have good wiper blades. Again, you have to see to drive safely. This isn’t rocket science. It’s a fact.
Leave plenty of space between cars. Don’t crowd the car ahead of you. You want to leave plenty of room to stop. And if you go into a skid, the last thing you want is to be up against someone else’s bumper.
S-L-O-W down. You know those car commercials where an SUV is barreling through ten feeet of snow? Those are professional drivers on closed roads. They are not you. Slow down — so it’ll take you ten minutes longer. It’s worth it.
Keep a portable shovel in your car. I do this, and it’s saved me from being stuck in a snow bank more than once.
Make sure you have emergency stash. A warm blanket, some snacks, and a flashlight can go a long way if you get stuck. As part of this….
Keep your cell phone charged. So you can call for help, if needed.
Keep a couple of sand bags in your trunk. Or cat litter. Not only does this add some extra weight (which can translate into extra traction), you can sprinkle the kitty litter/sand under your tires to give you some purchase, if you get stuck.
Four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive vehicles do not do better on ice. So keep that in mind. Don’t drive like a crazy person when the roads are icy.
Use your headlights. You want to make sure you’re visible to the other cars on the road. This helps.
If you find yourself behind a plow or salt truck, don’t pass until you have plenty of room. Remember, they only have a limited field of vision.
If you get stuck, don’t spin your wheels to get out. It doesn’t help. Go forward, then back, forward, back, in a steady rocking motion. It’ll work a lot better.
Know how to recover from skids. When you brake on a slippery road, it’s all too easy to “lock up” your wheels by stepping on the brakes a little too hard. If you start to skid, gently steer the vehicle in the direction you want the front of your vehicle to go and don’t touch your brakes. As part of this….
If you have Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS), don’t pump them. The whole point of ABS is that they pump themselves to make stopping in snow easier. The pulsing or chattering you hear or feel is just them doing their job. Pumping = strictly old school.
Drive with a light touch. No sudden, herky-jerky movements, no sharp turns at high speeds. Gentle is better.
These should help you get to the mountain in one piece. Anyone have any others to add?
Make sure your wiper fluid is rated to 0 degrees – this may not be an issue back east, but out West it can be. We live in SoCal, and discovered this while driving in lousy weather through south Utah as our wiper fluid froze up. The Shell station in Beaver was doing a land-office business unfreezing everyone’s wiper fluid lines! So now on each trip we pick up a gallon or two of 0-degree-rated fluid and that’s all we put in our cars now, since we can’t get 0-degree fluid in SoCal.
For those with inadequate tires (or driving skills), I’d suggest you take the bus where it’s available. A number of resorts in my area have a parking lot a the bottom of the mountain, right off the main road, and a cheap shuttle bus to the resort area. Make it easier on yourself and everyone else on the road and just take the bus!