A mountain guide to winter driving
EAGLE COUNTY – Atlanta native Katie Monroe was looking forward to many things about her first winter in the Vail Valley, but winter driving was definitely not one of them.”It’s so scary,” she said. ” The roads get so bad.”Monroe decided not to take her chances and got studded snow tires for her Honda sedan. They have worked out pretty well so far, but sometimes the snowy roads still make her nervous, she said.”The only time I’ve really slid or skidded is when I’m doing something stupid, like if I’m just going too fast,” she said.Minturn resident Tabitha Greason, who moved from Pennsylvania last year, said the mountain roads are far snowier than what she is used to.In general she does not have any problems with the all-weather tires on her Volkswagen, she said, but steeper roads can be a challenge.”Sometimes hills can be hard. I have some trouble getting up them,” she said.But driving in the ice and snow does not have to be terrifying as long as drivers have the right equipment on their cars and know the right reactions to certain situations, ice-driving experts said.Kasim Esmail, instructor at the Audi Club of North America’s ice°©driving school in Georgetown, said a little confidence on icy roads can go a long way.Even just playing around in an empty, snow-covered parking lot helps drivers to “push the limits a bit” and have the confidence to react correctly when faced with bad roads, he said.”A lot of it is just getting over that knee-jerk reaction to slam on the brake or jerk your car the other way,” he said.Here are some tips from the icedriving pros that can help you navigate Interstate 70, the hill up to your neighborhood or even just the driveway with more confidence.The right equipmentYou don’t have to have an all-wheel-drive, race-ready sport utility vehicle like the ones provided at the Bridgestone Winter Driving School in Steamboat Springs, but your vehicle does need to be prepared for winter. “Car problems that are a nuisance in the summer can turn dangerous in winter,” the pros at Bridgestone said.Make sure the cooling, braking and suspension systems are all in order before winter starts. That includes your battery, which can lose as much as 40 percent of its ability to deliver a current in cold weather.Stud or not to stud?Good all-weather tires are usually adequate for winter, although mountain drivers might be wise to get snow or ice tires, Esmail said.”People spend a lot on their cars and get an all-wheel drive, but it’s no use if they don’t get that great of tires,” he said.Studded tires are ideal for gripping ice, but unless you are driving on ice all the time, studs can wear down very quickly. Esmail said tire choice really depends on what kind of conditions you will normally be driving in.Drivers should be aware that winter tires may have as much as 50 percent more traction than all-weather tires, Bridgestone instructor Mark Cox said.That means someone with winter tires may be able to come to a stop up to 50 percent faster, so leave extra room when braking.When you’ve lost controlWhat should you do if your car starts fishtailing in Dowd Junction or the front of your car slips while you’re turning on the pass?”Most people’s reaction is to hit the brakes,” Esmail said.But if the car is fishtailing, that means there is not enough weight in the back, and braking will not help.”Imagine the car is filled with water. If you slam on the brakes, it all goes flying toward the front, and you already don’t have enough weight on the back,” Esmail said.If the front end of the car has lost control, braking will just cause the car to slide.The key is “smooth equals control,” Esmail said. Slight, controlled movements are best for straightening the car.If the car is fishtailing, slightly and smoothly turn your wheel in the opposite direction of the skid. A common mistake is to overcorrect, which only causes the car to veer the other way.The opposite problem is when the front wheels lose control and your car doesn’t turn as much as you need it to. Continuing to steer in the same direction doesn’t help – instead, steer slightly in the opposite direction and eventually the tires will regain their grip.BrakingGive yourself extra room to brake in snowy conditions.In emergency stopping situations, pumping the brakes usually keeps the brakes from locking, but you have to lift off of the brake in order to steer, Bridgestone instructors said.If you have anti-lock brakes, the system pumps the brakes for you, which produces the pulsing feeling. However, for the best car handling and quickest stop, pressing on the brake right before it reaches the pulsing point is most effective, Esmail said.If you feel the pulsing, try to let off the brake a little bit so you can reach that point, he said.Look aheadIn bad driving conditions, look ahead and steer and brake much earlier than you normally would.It sounds elementary, Esmail said, but by looking farther ahead, you can prevent having to make sudden movements.”When you’re looking at something, your hand can really take that info and react. Look where you want to turn, or look where you want to straighten out to,” he said. “A lot of driving is awareness of the environment.”
Take a winter driving course Audi Club of North America Georgetown. The full-day courses are held on Georgetown Lake. The club holds two sessions per winter for adults and teens. Sign up at http://www.audiclubrmc.org. Bridgestone Winter Driving School Steamboat Springs. There are a variety of performance courses.Classes are held on the schools ice track every day through early March. Sign up at http://www.winterdrive.com.
Steep roads and icy driveways can be trouble spots. If your tires are spinning out going up a hill, that means youre giving it too much power, said driving instructor Kasim Esmail. Ease off the gas. Try switching into a lower gear. For getting out of a parked spot, keep kitty litter or gravel in your car to put behind the wheels. This will help provide traction in icy conditions.
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