I grew up in South Africa. Africa is kind of famous for a lot of things, one being its distinct lack of snow! Aside from the tips of the tallest mountains, even a light dusting of snow would make national news.
And now, here I am. I live in Bear Valley, at 7200 feet, in a town that averages 200 inches of snowfall each year.
I realized recently that I am confident to drive in pretty much all winter conditions now, but I do clearly remember white knuckling my way slowly up Highway 4 when even a small amount of snow fell. Knowledge and experience have made me a pretty good snow driver and here are some of the things I have learned!
- Go Slowly. Duh right? But seriously, this one thing is more important than any other. Snowy roads don’t offer good traction and is impossible to predict how you car will react to sudden braking. Even at 25 mph, it can take a startlingly long time to come to a stop (sorry for scaring you Snowplow guy!). Allow ample time for your journey so the slow going doesn’t add stress to your drive.
- Make sure you are prepared. A full tank of gas, chains, shovel, ice scraper, sleeping bag, snack and water should always be on board before heading into snowy areas. Carry chains even if you have snow tires- they can make a big difference in icy conditions. Make sure you have a change of clothes and waterproof shoes and gloves at a minimum – ideally warm waterproof clothing for the whole body.
- Test the conditions. If it is safe to do so, play with your car. Brake softly, brake hard, try different turns etc and see how the car responds. I find my car handles worst on slushy snow with temps around 33. Colder, dryer snow actually makes a decent driving surface.
- Snowplows are your friend! Caltrans does an amazing job of keeping Highway 4 clear. I have never seen it closed for more than an hour or so. If you find the snow is falling too deep, you can pull over in a safe place and wait for a snowplow. They do loops on highway 4 during storms so they come along quickly!
- Other things:
- Keep the wipers free of ice. If you have a car with a defrost function, great! Otherwise you may have to stop periodically to clear the ice. If you don’t you will soon be struggling with a build up that is hard to shift and impossible to see through!
- Watch out when you are driving in standing snow. Even a few inches can start packing up under the car until you actually get lifted off the pavement and end up stuck! Then you have to dig compacted snow out from under your car. No fun!
- Remember where you park your car! And check before you dig out – we have all accidentally dug out the neighbors car at least once!
4. Know which roads you shouldn’t drive on. In Bear Valley some roads are closed to cars and residents use a snowmobile to get around!