EpicSki › Mountain Article › Winter Driving Tips and Techniques

Winter Driving Tips and Techniques

by Tyler Wenzel



In all things skiing, gear will only take you so far. The same applies when getting yourself to the mountain. Snow tires certainly come in handy, but they’re no substitute for technique. As a matter of fact, the EpicSki community reports that the majority of them ride to the ski hill on standard all-season radials. It stands to reason that the best winter drivers are skiers and ice truckers; here are the top tips from the skiers for driving on snow and ice.

1: Leave Yourself Plenty of Room 

  • To Stop

When we asked the community to share their technique tips for driving safely in winter conditions, the most frequent advice was to leave plenty of space between you and the car in front of you. Many state driver's manuals recommend tripling or quadrupling the distance between cars during snow storms than would be necessary under ideal driving circumstances. Leaving space gives you more time to react. In ideal conditions should something happen you can just stop, on snow and ice that may not be the case. Particularly on highways where a certain measure of speed can be used stopping may take much longer than one would expect.

  • To Turn 

However, leaving room is not just for stopping. It’s also for evading. Maneuvering will take more time in snow. Turns should be done more gradually, not suddenly. Traction is a valuable—and necessary—commodity in winter conditions. Turning is already going to inherently reduce the traction of your vehicle. The force of a turn will place more weight on the tires on the outside radius of the turn. More lateral force is going to increase the odds of overcoming the coefficient of static friction in the tires and lead to sliding.


2. Leave the Pedals Alone

One tip that was mentioned for turning is to leave the pedals alone. Don’t brake or accelerate when turning. If you do need to do either they should be done as gradually as possible. Being gradual with every movement on winter conditions is essential. In fact extra caution should be used. Dave86 recommended this tidbit of advice:

* If I think my vehicle can go 50 mph in the given conditions, then back off and drive 40 mph...
* If 100 feet of following distance from the vehicle in front of me seems appropriate, then drive with 150 or 200 feet of following distance...
* If I think I can stop in 100 feet, then start slowing downs and braking at 150 feet...


3. Slow the Hell Down

Another thing not to take for granted is speed. They say speed kills, and that is doubly true on snow and ice. Even going straight you can quickly end up sideways. A gust of wind can easily knock a car traveling straight into a ditch. Swisstrader put it quite eloquently:


For me it's pretty simply: "SLOW THE HELL DOWN!!"


His point is concise and to the point. Slow down on slick roads. In fact often the seemingly most safe place to drive is actually the most dangerous. Often interstates are among the first to be plowed and treated. They usually are among the straightest stretches of roads as well. It looks great on paper, but in real life that leads to danger.


4. Don't Use Cruise Control on the Interstate

The seemingly safe conditions of the interstate lead to three potential problems. Number one is ourselves. A few comments mentioned avoiding using cruise control. Often the first detection of something wrong is when we feel the car slipping on the gas pedal; the cruise control doesn’t feel that. In general, though, driving on the interstate--especially if it seems like it is in decent shape--can lull us into a false sense of security.


5. Drive Defensively

Even if we remain vigilant there are many dangers. We see crazy drivers on the interstate during normal weather, and they don’t stay home when it snows. In fact the highway tends to be a toxic mix of people being uber-careful driving too slow, and people over confident in their car or abilities and driving too fast. That results in rule number one (space) being compromised frequently—leading to accidents.


Accidents are also danger number three on the highway. If both lanes are shut down you are out of luck. A few winters ago I-80 in Pennsylvania got shut down during a snow storm because of an accident. In the time they took to get the road cleared it snowed so much the cars were stuck in the snow and no plows could get through. People were stuck for three days. Simply put, when an accident happens there is often nowhere to go (or even turn around) on the highway.


That covers several ways to stay safe, but like many things in life we can’t control all circumstances. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a backup plan. Many posters commented on the first aid kit and supplies they keep in the car. It is important when driving in snow to have warm clothes, basic first aid gear, a shovel, reflecting type warning devices, and more.


For an unabridged consideration of safety and driving tips see the thread this is based on here.

Comments (8)

Don't forget RainX (or similar).
An old-timer shuttle driver once told me any road condition is drivable, as long as you adjust your speed accordingly.
Watch out for big rig spray!
Use your gears, especially with an AT. If conditions warrent 25 to 30 mph, put it second or even first. My ski commutes involve Nevada SR431 (Mt Rose Highway) and SR207 (Kingsbury Grade), and California SR88 (Carson Pass). All three can be tough especially decending Kingsbury grade on ice. The right gear will apply the right engine RPM and torque at the wheels to keep the vehicle balanced and reduce the chances of a break-away on ice.
relax your arms and hands. a gently feel will make smooth turning of the wheel instead a jerking motion which will send the car into a skid.
And . . . DO NOT attempt to pass a snow plow. You will be in a white out. Watch the overpassess too. I once was in a white out by being UNDER the overpass as a snowplow was passing above. It's a very eerie feeling to be totally in a white out for a few seconds while going at highway speeds.
Hey, something that took me a long time to learn when I moved up from S. Florida. I'd been cranking the heat up WAY high because I couldn't take the cold, was used to 85+ degrees and kept the car there. But that drove the humidity so low it was causing me sinus problems, was getting sick a lot and had no idea why. Eventually I figured it out and got a humidifier for the apartment, but you can't do that in a car because it'll make the windows ice up on the inside. So just dress warmly in the car and keep the heat in the upper '60's, your respiratory system will appreciate it and eventually you'll acclimate.
Something I started as a young driver and also insisted my wife does every year. Practise and play a bit in an empty parking lot the first snow fall/icey day to get a feel of what your car does and does not do under those conditions. It is amazing how much we forget the feel of things (just like sking the first run or 2 of the season) over the off season. With vehicles we can cause a lot worse damage if we forget, with skis we are likely the only ones to suffer. Beats being surprised!
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