When you enjoy mountain snow, remember safety and etiquette

Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo

Living in the mountain resorts can be a challenge for locals when the snow begins to fly as hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to visit the snow or ski resorts. Here are some tips to make your trip to the mountains safe and enjoyable.

Be prepared. Know where you are going ahead of time and check the road conditions along your route. Many areas will have a tourist hotline for the area. A map for chain control and traffic conditions can be found online at http://quickmap.dot.ca.gov/. Remember, things can be difficult for drivers once they are on an icy mountain road so it’s best to always be ready for unfavorable weather conditions. Driver’s should pay attention to warnings issued by Caltrans at all times.

Consider traveling on a weekday when traffic is lighter and in the winter months, travelers should always carry chains for their vehicle, even if it is not snowing. Make sure you notify someone of your intended route before you hit the road. Give your contact information such as the time you plan to arrive and the day and time you expect to return home. Should there be an incident along the way, they can tell emergency services where to begin looking for you. Don’t forget to let your contact know when you arrive at your destination so they don’t worry unnecessarily.

Be sure to keep your vehicle maintained and perform safety checks before you hit the road. If your vehicle runs out of gas, has mechanical trouble, is low on antifreeze or needs a brake job, you should address the problem before you leave for your mountain getaway. If your vehicle breaks down while you are traveling or if you find yourself stuck on the side of the road, you increase the danger of an accident, not only for yourself, but for other drivers as well.

Make sure you pack sunglass dark enough for snow, snow blindness is no joke so be sure to bring sunglasses. As a side note, sunscreen should also be worn when you are outdoors as sunburns are possible any time of the year.

Pack blankets, food, water and a first-aid kit just in case you do get stuck along the way. A working flashlight is a must for any emergency kit. There are some good, bright, long lasting LED flashlights with strobes available at almost every store now. Flares are also a great idea for your emergency kit. They are easily seen by other drivers on dark mountain roads.

Be sure to charge your cellphone in advance and bring a backup charger, but be aware cell service varies. Service can be spotty in some areas and weather can affect signals from cell towers, in some instances text messages may get through when a call won’t.

If you do become stranded, stay in your vehicle which will provide you shelter from the cold and any inclement weather you may face. It can take hours to days depending on where you get stuck and severity of the storm before you can be found and rescued.

To make it easier for rescuers to locate you, bring a red flag – a bandana tied to a dowel works. Stick it in the snow on your car. This marks a snow-covered car so workers will know to check in the vehicle for any occupants. Also in a storm a snow-covered car can look like a boulder and snow plows could potentially pile more snow upon it if it’s not marked. Make sure your exhaust pipe isn’t clogged with snow, ice or mud when you run your heater. A blocked exhaust could cause deadly carbon monoxide gas to leak into your vehicle while the engine is running. Try to run the engine and heater just long enough to remove the chill and conserve gasoline.

A camp shovel is handy, as well as a knife sharp enough to cut tree branches in case you need traction. Boughs can be placed under your tires and Kitty Litter can work for traction too. If your car or truck is a rear-wheel drive weight in the back is important for traction so sand bags or Kitty Litter works well.

More about chains

Put your tire chains on before you reach the chain check to avoid slowing down traffic. Gloves interfere with dexterity so practice putting on your chains and cables at home while wearing gloves before you go. This also helps you to determine if the chains fit properly or if they will need to be adjusted. Never install chains in the roadway and block traffic, instead use designated areas or turnouts. Follow all commands from Caltrans crews, chain installers, law enforcement and emergency responders.


Know what kind of brakes you have on your vehicle. If you have an anti-lock brake system and you need to slow down quickly, press hard on the pedal. Remember it is normal for the pedal vibrate a bit when the abs is activated. Don’t come to a complete stop if it is not necessary. It takes longer to start moving again.

Always drive slower on snowy or icy roads; acceleration, stops and turns need a drivers undivided attention. Also, increase your following distance from three seconds to 10 seconds to provide more stopping distance.

If you do start to skid, steer in the direction you want to go and keep a steady, light pressure on the gas. If you’re skidding sideways, don’t panic, remember if you hit the brakes, it could just make things worse.

In the snow, maintaining traction is important

If your vehicle has traction control or stability control, use it. According to www.caranddriver.com, “Traction control monitors relative speed between the driven wheels, activating the brakes or reducing engine power to curb wheelspin and wheelspin alone. Stability control adds sideways yaw sensors but uses similar methods to keep the car pointed in the direction you want to go. Stability control always includes traction control.”

Don’t power uphill fast on snow or ice-covered roads and don’t stop if you can help it. If you are losing traction on a hill, press on the gas just enough to get your car moving and when your vehicle should regain traction. You do not want to have to back down a steep hill either. When driving downhill, place your car in low before the approach and go slow. It is best to avoid such roads in the snow and ice if possible.

Etiquette for mountain visitors

Do not snow-play on roadways or private property. Go to designated snow play areas. Don’t trash the mountains, instead take your trash with you. Remember the leave no trace principles, they apply to all seasons and all wilderness areas. Bring trash bags to dispose of your litter – keep it in your vehicle until you can dispose of it in a trash receptacle. The fine for littering is up to $1,000.

Use common sense

Drinking while skiing makes driving later dangerous for all. More accidents happen on the curvy roadways coming home from a day of skiing and drinking than one can imagine.

In the end, trust your gut and do not get into a dangerous situation that could leave you stuck in a unfamiliar place with no phone service, food or water or wearing less than proper clothing.

If a big storm is coming, stay home. Go to the mountain and enjoy snow when the snowstorm is over and the roads have been cleared for driving. Remember, even if you have tons of experience driving in the snow and are an expert in doing so, not everyone else is.

Winter snow is magical and fun. But it can also be a dangerous time so be prepared, be safe and have fun. If a snowstorm blows in while you are on your mountain getaway, consider extending your stay. Instead of hitting the road and putting yourself and your loved ones in a precarious position on a snow-covered roadway, rent a cabin or a room and stay awhile.

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