Originally Posted by NayBreak
I can descend a 7% grade at about 5 mph without using the brakes.
Just so we're clear here, I was in first gear going downhill and having trouble maintaining control. Second, I'm all about driving on snow, especially on my way to and from the resort for a powder day and have no problems maintaining highway speeds on packed snow. I've got decades of experience driving in some ugly conditions. However, when visibility drops to (literally) zero, it doesn't matter whether you're driving on studded or studless snow tires or in a huge honkin' plow truck with chains on. There were long stretches where the best feedback I was getting about where I was facing in relation to the road came from the GPS. I have driven over Monarch probably 50+ times in the last five years and this was a record setter for me in terms of nastiness. If I had remember to throw the chains in the back they would have been on for sure but it wouldn't have made the trip any quicker.
As far as studded versus studless, I can imagine justifications for both depending on the amount of driving you do in the winter. Studless with the option to throw on chains when it gets really nasty has been working for me. This is what I use (http://www.scc-chain.com/tire-chain-finder/traction-product-choices/z-chain/). I also have a second set of steel wheels for the winter tires so I don't need to peel the tires off the rims twice a year.
Oh, and totally agreed about the shoulder seasons being the worst winter conditions with the least level of preparedness. Beyond tires, I always carry a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, shovel, emergency blanket, spare gloves, a hat and an emergency first-aid kit in the trunk.