While we love to see the snow fall at our favorite resorts, some drivers might be intimidated when winter weather creates challenging driving conditions. But by taking a few simple precautions and being aware, you can make it to the mountains safely.
New Hampshire’s Team O’Neil Rally School offers Winter Driving Courses to get students more comfortable driving in quickly changing winter conditions. SnoCountry.com joined them for a morning at Stratton to learn about some of their most important winter driving tips.
Plan for winter driving- You can be the safest winter driver on the road, but you’re only as good as the tools you use. Be sure your tires aren’t worn out, or better yet buy winter tires. Tires with a good tread, intended for winter use are critical and serve as your point of contact with the road. Be sure other parts of your car are in good working order, check wiper blades, fill windshield washer fluid, and have gloves, hat, coat, small shovel, jumper cables and tow strap. It is also a good habit to keep at least a half tank of gas in your tank during the winter months.
Test the conditions…and your car– Before you are faced with a real-world driving challenge, find a safe, open space and firmly apply your brakes or make a hard turn. Doing this early in the winter will allow you to know how your car reacts in these conditions, its limits, and how to safely compensate for it. Doing so throughout the winter and during different storms will give you a better idea of the current conditions and how much steering and braking input you can effectively utilize. This will also allow you to know how much to compensate for the conditions.
Look where you want to go– This simple rule sounds obvious, but keeping it mind will help you end up where you want to be. When confronted with an unexpected slide, drivers often will fixate on an object on the side of the road; inevitably the car will head towards that object. Remain calm and stay focused on where you want the car to go, continue to concentrate on driving and often you will have a positive result.
Prioritize your maneuvers– With limited grip available, if you are using a fair amount of one input (steering, braking, accelerating) you must wait to strongly apply another. For example when braking hard, if you turn the steering wheel sharply, odds are you will continue straight. Wait until you are releasing the brake then steadily apply the steering.
Be aware safety systems can be counter-productive– Systems such as ABS (Anti-lock Braking System) are in place to keep your wheels from locking up under heavy braking. Slick snowy and icy surfaces may result in you requiring several times the distance to come to a stop. Traction control is meant to eliminate the tires spinning faster than the distance of road traveled. Sometimes in winter, wheel spin is beneficial in cutting through the top layer of snow/ice and finding grip below it. Be prepared to have trouble accelerating in certain slippery scenarios. Know these systems and what their positive and negative impacts are.