While lots of snow is great for skiing, it can make driving a little tricky. Each season we see people getting it very wrong and nothing will ruin a holiday more than an unnecessary accident. So, for those of you planning to drive out, we thought it would be helpful to give you a few pointers so that the only sliding you do is on the slopes and not on the roads.
Forget four-wheel drive – proper winter tyres are, without question, the single best investment you can make for safe driving in snowy conditions. Put a decent set of winter tyres on your car and you’ll probably never have to bother with snow chains.
Winter tyres maximise grip by combining a softer rubber compound, deeper tread grooves and, most importantly, special zig-zag slits in the tread known as “sipes”. These little sipes actually bite into the snow, giving much more grip, meaning handling, turning, going uphill and stopping all become significantly easier.
And, because winter tyres work best in temperatures below 7°C, it means they’re not just great in proper alpine weather – you’ll start to notice an improvement on any cold road surfaces, even back in the UK.
Join the chain gang
As we said, if you’ve got good winter tyres you probably won’t need to use snow chains – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have any! In fact, the local police will often set up random road checks to make sure you are carrying snow chains and will turn you away from some roads or resorts if you don’t have them.
Fitting snow chains can be fiddly and frustrating, especially with cold hands, so make sure you have some good gloves with you that you don’t mind getting dirty. If you’re unfamiliar with your snow chains, it is definitely worth having a practice at putting them on in the dry before you set off on your holiday.
As an alternative, snow socks are easier to put on than chains but obviously won’t give you anywhere near as much grip in heavy snow. The advantage to snow socks is that they do not disturb the safety systems on a vehicle, such as ESP or ABS, and are kinder to alloy rims.
Finally, make sure you put your snow chains on the correct wheels! You won’t believe the number of times we’ve seen drivers of rear wheel drive BMWs put snow chains on their front wheels!
A week is a long time in terms of mountain weather so, even if it was clear and sunny at the beginning of your holiday, there’s every chance conditions could be dramatically different by the time it comes to driving home.
Preparing your vehicle properly takes a lot of stress out of long drives in uncertain winter weather: get your battery checked (cold temperatures can rob it of up to 50% of its power), fill up your windscreen washer fluid (road salt and slush can plaster onto your windscreen), and make sure you always have at least half a tank of fuel. And don’t forget to pack your snow chains (see above)!
Additionally, pack a simple “emergency kit” in the boot just in case: a warm blanket; a torch (ideally a head torch); some bottled water; charging cable or backup battery for your phone.
Giving snow the brush off
Clearing snow off your car is very important. If you don’t do it properly, the local gendarmes will NOT be happy.
Don’t think you can get away with just clearing the windows. You need to make sure your lights are clear too so other drivers can see you and, critically, clear ALL the snow off the roof too. If you drive at any speed, any snow left on the roof will come off – either sliding forward blocking your view as you brake, or blowing off into the windscreen of the car behind you. This isn’t just discourteous, it’s dangerous.
Keep some bits and pieces in the boot to clear snow off your car: a good brush is great for shifting snow without scratching your paintwork; a pair of old ski (or gardening) gloves you don’t mind getting dirty; an ice scraper for your windscreen and mirrors; something to knock ice build-up from your wheel arches; a bottle of antifreeze can come in handy too.
Gently does it
So, you’ve got snow tyres on, you’ve cleared the snow off your car and you’re ready to go – but do you know how to drive in snowy conditions? The quick answer is: DRIVE SLOWLY!
Don’t just put your car in first gear and hit the accelerator or you’ll just wheel-spin. Setting off slowly in second gear will give you much more traction. Accelerate and decelerate gently and smoothly. Keep a little extra distance between you and the car in front and indicate well in advance of any manoeuvre. When turning, adjust your speed before the corner – this is even more important going downhill – so you don’t need to brake during the curve.
Avoid powering up hills – it’ll just make your wheels spin. Try to smoothly and gradually build up momentum on the flat before the incline, and don’t come to a full stop on a slope unless it’s really unavoidable. Going downhill, use a lower gear to take advantage of engine braking to avoid picking up too much speed and relying on your brakes.
If you do get into a skid, don’t panic, and don’t brake – it’ll just make it worse. If the rear end slides out, steer into the skid and try to keep the wheels and car pointing in the direction you want to go – don’t overcompensate. Oh, and did we mention DRIVE SLOWLY!
So, now you should be ready to drive like a pro! And, because all the AliKats chalets have parking available, that’s one less thing to worry about too! Drive carefully and we’ll see you soon.