Snow driving: The basics
There are basic rules to follow when driving in snow conditions. Like skiing or boarding, driving in snow and ice conditions is an acquired skill. Extreme care is required when driving on alpine roads in winter. Planning is essential to ensure your car is in good condition and you have all the necessary equipment for a safe journey.
- Observe local speed limits in resorts, chain fitting bays and elsewhere.
- Before leaving the ski fields, be sure to clear any snow from the car roof, to avoid creating a road hazard to other vehicles. Failure to do so is an offence.
- Drive cautiously with gradual pressure on the accelerator to avoid wheel spin. The speed is not necessarily the slowest possible, sometimes a more optimum speed can help momentum through snow drifts or travelling up hills.
- Avoid unnecessary gear changes. Engage first or second gear on level ground (including automatics) before ascending or descending hills in snow or ice conditions.
- Brake gently. Front and rear wheels can lock easily with loss of steering and control.
- Keep well behind the vehicles in front.
- Avoid braking when cornering. Brake before the corner while the wheels are straight.
- Keep well away from snow clearing machines. It is often necessary to reverse these machines, and snow clearing operators may not be able to see you in snowdrift or falling snow conditions. Also, the fountain of snow coming from the blowers may contain ice chunks and stones.
- Do not overtake clearing equipment until they have stopped blowing snow.
- Be patient approaching large vehicles, such as buses, and only overtake if visibility is good.
If minimum visibility (white-out) conditions occur and the road ahead and snow poles are not visible, bring the vehicle to a stop, leave the motor running and switch on your hazard lights.
Travel in daylight hours whenever possible. It is difficult to judge distances in snow at night.
In poor visibility conditions, drive with your headlights on low beam. Use front and rear demisters, with air-conditioning on, to ensure windscreens are clear at all times.
Remember that when meeting oncoming vehicles, common sense dictates that the vehicle going up has right of way. It is much harder for an ascending vehicle to start again if it has to stop.
Braking and skidding
On icy or snow covered roads always use your brakes gently and drive slowly. If you lose traction it is better to control your car by steering rather than braking. If you were to hit the bank or get stuck in a snow drift it is better than going over the edge! Keep some distance from vehicles in front of you and give yourself plenty of time to stop.
Other helpful hints
- Clear all glass and mirrors of ice before attempting to drive away from snowfields.
- For fast demisting of the front windscreen, use the car’s heater and fan in conjunction with the vehicle’s air-conditioner.
- Warm the engine for a few minutes before driving off.
- Have a spare set of keys.
Driving on alpine roads not only requires concentration and adept driving skills, but also a lot of patience. Keep your cool if stuck in a long queue of traffic, and always follow directions of resort staff and road signs. They are there for your safety.