An Open Letter to First Time Drivers on Colorado’s Snowy Roads
First things first. I know a lot of Coloradans are not on board with people moving in from other states - looking at you, California - but generally, I’m pretty welcoming to people who love it here so much they want to live here. Though I do understand why so many people who live here are totally against sharing our awesome state with the newbies. It’s because they don’t know how to drive in the snow.
You see, we Coloradans have a unique skill-set from years of experience driving in the white stuff, and I’m talking about legit, monster snowfalls, not just one of those light dustings that blow off the street as a car goes by. Sure, maybe you’re used to driving in the snow wherever you came from, but until you’ve driven down Highway 34 in near white-out conditions with a stiff, 40 MPH crosswind polishing the ice on the road in front of you, you haven’t seen anything yet, rookie.
So, before our big first snow of this winter hits, allow me to offer these tidbits of snow-driving advice to you, the new Colorado resident if this is your first winter driving here. These are my own morsels of wisdom and do not reflect the views of, well, anyone probably! But if anyone from the DMV reads this, please feel free to share with people as they get their license when they move here.
For starters, if you don’t have to go out, stay off the roads.
This should go without saying. If you don’t have to be anywhere, where better to be than on your couch with a cup of hot chocolate, catching up on whatever you’re binging on Netflix? Leave the snowy driving to the people delivering packages from Amazon, the holiday-time angels they are.
If you do have to go out, leave plenty of time and make sure your ride is up for it.
Low tread on your tires? Stay home. Do you drive an old Mazda Miata convertible with rear-wheel drive? Maybe you should call an Uber. Either way, leave early so you’re not in a hurry.
Make sure your ride is reliable with tread on your tires and good air pressure. Driving in the snow is also much easier with a 4-wheel or all-wheel drive vehicle, but a front-wheel-drive will pass in a moderate storm. Generally the higher clearance you have under the car, the better, so you don’t get stuck on any drifts or chunks that have fallen off other cars.
Disclaimer: Driving a big truck or 4-Wheel Drive doesn’t make you snow driving superhero. It’ll give you traction to help you go easier, but it’s the stopping that’s a challenge. It’s even harder if you’re going too fast. Don’t be fooled into a false sense of invincibility.
You don’t have to do the speed limit, but you also don’t have to go so slow.
The rule of thumb here is to keep pace with everyone around you. Like I always say, make sure you leave enough room between you and the guy in front of you. This is two-fold. It helps you avoid hitting him if he stops fast, but it also gives you some buffer room to maneuver if the guy behind you is coming up too fast and can’t stop. This is kind of the quintessential example of the expression “go with the flow.”
The fewer wheel-jerk movements you make - or worse, cause others to make - the better! It should go without saying, if you’re not keeping up, stay to the right so people who are can safely get around you. But that’s when it’s dry and sunny too.
You most likely won’t see ice until you feel it.
Black ice isn’t black, technically, and it’s everywhere. It’s really just crystal clear ice coating the roadway, and you see the black of the road through it, hence its name. You won’t see it coming until you hit it, and if you hit it too fast, it can be very dangerous. It’s important not to swerve, hit the brakes or the accelerator when you feel it. Just coast until you’ve passed it.
Hills are not your friend.
If you’re going uphill, anticipate that you’re going to have to go down the other side, and adjust your speed accordingly as you go up. It won’t be as easy to slow down on the downside, so better to slow down early and gradually.
Go easy on the brakes, buddy. Tap, don’t slam!
Anti-lock brakes or not, if you slam on the brakes in the snow, you’re going to slide. And unless you’re doing donuts in a big open space somewhere, that’s not a good thing. Once you start to slide, it’s tough to control. But if you do end up sliding while braking, you should remove your foot from the brake and steer into the skid.
If you have anti-lock brakes, you can gently press down and hold the pedal as you slow down and you’ll feel them pulse a bit, helping you to regain control. If you don’t have anti-lock brakes you can sort of manually pump the pedal to create the same effect - much like parents do at red lights with a crying baby in the backseat, to simulate a moving car. No? Just me?
Easy on the accelerator too.
If you are stopped at a stop sign or red light in the snow and immediately hit the gas when it’s your turn to go, oftentimes you go nowhere. It’s kind of like standing still on ice skates and giving that first push-off. You always slip a little bit. So the best advice is to ease into that accelerator until you get some momentum behind you. Slow your roll and you’ll get up and going in no time.
Last but not least, respect the Colorado snow-driving experts and drive defensively.
If you’re a newbie around these parts, welcome to you. Just know that the guy who flew past you on the way to work this morning has probably been driving in the snow for the last 30 years and you should respect that. I don’t condone speeding in the snow, even as a lifetime Colorado resident, but even I know to just stay out of his way. Some people only have one speed and the best thing you can do is to always, always drive defensively. Stay in your own space, stay out of the way of people moving faster than you and you’ll be just fine!
Oh, and one more pro tip.
If you live in a house with a north-facing driveway, shovel your driveway before you back out of the garage. Otherwise, those tire tracks are going to freeze into ice today and you’ll never get your car back into the garage when you get home.