Mountain Folks Guide to Winter Driving

Driving in the snow in the mountains is hazardous–find more winter driving tips here.

Since there is a storm on its way and it is a holiday weekend, I thought this mountain folks guide to winter driving would be appropriate–don’t be fooled by the tone, it is a serious look at winter driving safety tips for mountain driving.

Icy roads, deep snowdrifts, and unexpected cold temperatures are just some of the winter challenges mountain folk face. Mountain Mabel took to the streets to gather some of the most useful tidbits she could find. At the local coffee shop, she began to dig for what other residents considered essential information for newcomers. So, here are some winter wise traveling tips for new mountain dwellers, compliments of the locals.

“Most flatlanders think they can drive like they do down the hill.” Hilltop Harry shared. “They haven’t seen anything like the winter road conditions here where things can change rapidly.” Mabel nodded in agreement knowing from experience that fog, snowfall and ice limit visibility. More than once she had to navigate using the reflectors or the painted stripes on the road. Many drivers slow down and pull over in those conditions, so extra caution is a must.

Defensive-drivin’ Dave piped in, “Yep, the biggest mistake new people make is thinking that they don’t have to worry about a thing in four-wheel drive vehicles. They go too fast, slip and slide, and never leave any extra distance for stopping.” Mabel understood that only too well. Last season she felt jinxed.

First, a speeding visitor slid right into her. Then she had bad luck going through the Arctic Circle. Usually careful during any changes in temperatures or in the snow load, she was distracted and traveling faster than she should have been. So, she lost both her oil pan and windshield to the boulders and smaller rocks that dropped down the barren hills onto the highway.

Spinning Sabrina strolled over to fill up the coffee cups. Her nickname came from an incident on black ice, common when the weather warms up. As the snow and ice melts, the runoff covers the road, freezing when the sun goes down. Black ice gets it name because it blends in with the road and cannot be easily seen on the blacktop. The ice looks more like a shadow on the road, if anything at all. Not wanting to miss the opportunity for comment she declared, “Tell them, if the car starts to slide DO NOT hit the brakes!”

Mabel flashed on the public service announcement that played on the local radio earlier that morning. The driving school commentary said that control could be regained in a spin by using slight steering corrections with deceleration or acceleration, or by shifting to lower gears to help slow the vehicle. Sabrina interrupted Mabel’s thoughts, “Don’t forget to mention that they need to watch out for black ice in areas shaded by buildings and trees too.”

Berm-bustin’ Brenda chimed in to share her story. “Remember that storm a few years ago when it rained all morning and then started snowing?” Everyone at the table nodded. “I was heading down a grade on the rim near Running Springs. The plow had gone down it a little while before me, but there was a thin sheet of ice under the snow. I went into this nasty slide and was picking up speed. I stopped my 4×4 by bumping into a berm. Then I slightly deflated my tires and dug out my bumper. After I got down the grade, I used the air compressor to fill my tires and get back on my way.”

Not wanting to be overlooked, Icebound Ivan chimed in. “Make sure they realize that water freezes in the winter. Too many people try to clean their windshields at local gas stations during the cold weather. I watched one guy make a great big frozen mess. So, I loaned him my ice scraper and told him to turn on his defroster.”

Fuel-station Fred commented, “We pull the windshield cleaning supplies for winter now. Be sure to mention that new residents need to get a complete coolant system check and flush when they get here. They also need to check their brakes, and all fluids to make sure they have cold temperature approved products. Be sure to mention that wet parking brakes and frozen windshield fluid compartments can cause problems too.”

Winter-wise William scribbled out a list for making a winter kit to keep in the car in the event of a delay due to an accident, weather, traffic or any other incident. [Read More…]

The items Winter-wise William felt were needed for warmth or aid in getting out of a jam during winter snow conditions during mountain driving include:

• a blanket or sleeping bag
• jumper cables
• chains
• a tow rope
• shovel
• sand or gritty kitty litter (not the clay type)
• an emergency flasher
• flares
• a bright rag
• non-perishable foods that don’t mind freezing temperatures (like protein bars)
• extra clothing (knit cap, gloves, extra socks, jacket)
• an air compressor
• lighter or waterproof matches
• tea light candles (for emergency heat)

Fuel-station Frank added, “It is a good idea to make sure they know to always have at least a half of tank of gas in case they get stuck, or need to use the heater when delayed. Everyone should carry tire chains, or cables throughout the winter months as a normal precaution too.”

Slowpoke Sydney drawled, “Tell ‘em to pull over in the turnouts and other areas to let faster vehicles go by, or to throw on chains. You might mention that they need to be careful not to lock their keys in the car if they do get out to put on chains.”

Plowing Paul growled, “Just stress that is a bad idea to park on the street in the winter.”

Speedy Steven interrupted from the next table. “And make sure they understand about keeping to the 25 mile-per-hour maximum speed recommendation when chains, cables or spike spiders are on tires. Otherwise they are going to break them and damage their vehicles. ”

Always a motor mouth he added, “Most people need to slow down below the posted speed limit–the big accidents I see are because they don’t leave extra distance for stopping–they end up playing an expensive game of bumper cars on corners and coming in and out of driveways.”

Mabel beamed as she gave me the details stressing that I should include the winter highway and road condition numbers.

CalTrans road and highway conditions (800) 427-7623

Big Bear Valley snow line (909) 866-7669

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This entry was posted on Saturday, January 19th, 2008 and is filed under Mountain Lake Resort, Small Town Living.

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4 Responses to “Mountain Folks Guide to Winter Driving

  • 1
    Birney Summers
    January 19th, 2008 09:21

    Excellent list of stuff for the trunk. I carry a military style entrenching tool as a shovel, and have used it to bring home wild ditch rose bushes. Our trunk first aid kit was used to patch up our dogs more often than people but certainly is needed in an emergency. Every summer, when we lived in Michigan, we went to the beach and filled a few one gallon plastic milk bottles with dry sand for winter use. Any excuse to go to the beach is a good one.

    Energy Boomer

  • 2
    January 20th, 2008 07:04

    Greta article. The safety kit for the trunk is so important. We have a first aid kit, but I haven’t put together a kit in case we were stuck somewhere. The information is valuable whenever we’re traveling. Thank you for the reminder. I definitely like to avoid snowy states. The few times driving in it convinced me that as beautiful as Snow is on it’s first falling, it’s a lot of work!

  • 3
    GG (Gossip Girl)
    January 20th, 2008 07:29

    @Birney: Thanks for commenting and mentioning the First Aid Kit. I didn’t include one because this article was specifically for winter driving–but a good point.

    @Cindy: The good thing about living here is that after a snowfall, the sun comes out and stays out. In most cases, the main highways are clear within 24 hours…the side streets? Well, they take a bit longer. And yes, it is a lot of work but in the long run, I love the seasons and life during and just after a good snow fall.

  • 4
    Shadow's Mom
    January 20th, 2008 19:00

    Excellent article! I’ll have to get sand or cat litter, but I have everything else. It would be awful to get stranded in the car in the snow!