Ski Report: Driving with caution in snowy conditions

By: Jeffrey Weidel, Special to Gold Country News Service
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Even for the most experienced drivers, a trip into the mountains can be a treacherous journey, certainly nothing that should be taken for granted. Driving carelessly in bad weather can turn a trip into a roadside nightmare. With storms coming one after another this month, both skiers and snowboarders are anxious to spend a few days in the snow. The problem can often be getting there. Too many people don't know how to drive in snow and ice, and fail to use the proper amount of caution in hazardous conditions. Safety should be the prime consideration when driving in ice or snowy conditions. Motorists more concerned about getting to their destination than proceeding with caution are often the people causing accidents. This is true during the week and becomes more prevalent on holiday weekends when traffic is frequently heavy along heavily traveled mountain roads. Narrow stretches along any mountain corridor can make even experienced drivers a bit fearful. During a snowstorm roads are obviously much more treacherous. Some motorists have even foolishly stopped in the middle of the road, unable to go any further. That's one extreme. The other is the driver who has no respect for dangerous conditions and drives at unsafe speeds. Over-reliance on a sport utility vehicle leaves some drivers with a false sense of security. The all-wheel drive cars are great for getting out of heavy snow and proceeding on snowy surfaces, but caution still needs to be used throughout the trip, and that is not always the practice. Just because an SUV is equipped with four-wheel drive doesn't mean people can stop any faster than someone with chains. Stopping distances become much longer, so leave three times the normal space between your vehicle and the one ahead. For SUV drivers, it's important to know if the vehicle has anti-locking brakes. During sudden stops, cars with anti-lock brakes need firm and constant pressure on the brake pedal. The opposite is true with normal brakes. When stopping quickly, drivers need to pump the brake pedal to avoid locking the wheels and losing control of the vehicle. Chains are an obvious safety area to check. Purchase the right size and know how to use them before embarking on a trip. Remember, when chain controls are in effect you need to reduce your speed. Allow six to eight seconds between your vehicle and the one ahead and never rely on cruise control or overdrive in bad conditions. Perhaps the best advice for driving in bad winter weather is not to drive at all. However, once on the road and heading into the mountains, here are a few additional safety tips: --Allow proper time: Mountain trips often take longer in the winter than other times of the year. Get an early start and allow extra time to reach the destination. --Be more observant: Visibility is often limited in winter conditions. Watch for other vehicles and snow removal equipment. If necessary, pull over in a safe turnout. Use a snowbrush, scraper or a clean cloth to keep windows free of snow or ice. --Fill the gas tank: It could be necessary to change routes or turn back during a severe storm. Long delays are possible as well. A full tank of gas could become quite important. --Emergency items: Carry a flashlight, first-aid kit, flares, jumper cables, tool kit, blanket or sleeping bag, gloves, paper towels, drinking water and food. If stuck, what to do --Don’t spin the wheels, that will only dig the vehicle in deeper --Turn wheels from side to side, which should push snow out of the way --Ease the vehicle out, don’t apply too much gas --Clear snow away from the wheels and the underside of the car --To improve traction, pour sand, gravel, salt or even kitty liter in the path of the wheels --Shift from forward to reverse, rocking the vehicle back and forth (consult owner's manual first to prevent possible transmission damage on some vehicles) Jeffrey Weidel is a Sacramento-area freelance writer with more than 20 years of skiing experience.