Driving in Alpine Areas
Knowing how to drive on winding mountain roads, in snow and ice conditions, is an important skill to acquire. Travelling on alpine roads in winter can be dangerous unless special driving techniques are used. Even where snow has been cleared from the road, the surface may still be covered by a film of snow or ice.
This section explains some of the basic rules to follow when driving in snow conditions.
Things to Do Before Leaving on the Drive to the Snow
Set up the vehicle with the correct equipment.
You will require the very best WHEEL CHAINS to achieve maximum grip and safety (Insure the chain size is correct for your tyres) The diamond-pattern is best. Vehicles fitted with these chains will be given priority access to resorts in heavy snow conditions.
Carry a spade, tow rope, ground sheet (for fitting chains), rubber gloves, plastic ice scraper, torch and warm clothes
Use anti-freeze compound in the radiator. Ensure the battery terminals are clean and in good condition
Check all lights are working, the condition of your tyres including the spare and increase the pressure in your tyres
Check that your roof rack is well secured
Practice fitting chains before you leave home to ensure they are the correct size for your tyres
Include a spare car key. Many people wire a second key to a secret location under the car
Fuel before you drive up the mountains you may experience lengthy delays in bad weather when you need to keep your motor running
It you drive a diesel powered vehicle, fill your fuel tank with alpine mix diesel from a service station close to the snow fields to avoid freezing of fuel. Dual fuel vehicles (LPG/petrol) should switch to petrol before entering alpine areas.
BRAKING AND SKIDDING
It is better to control your car by steering rather than braking. Hitting the bank or being stuck in a snow drift is better than going over the edge! If you go into a skid, turn the front wheels in the direction of the skid and release your brake. After the skid ceases, gently apply your brakes.
If minimum visibility (white-out) conditions occur and the road ahead and snow poles are not visible, bring the vehicle to a stop, leave the motor running and switch on your hazard lights.
Travel in daylight hours whenever possible. It is difficult to judge distances in snow at night.
In poor visibility conditions, drive with your headlights on low beam. Use front and rear demisters, with air-conditioning on, to ensure Windscreens are clear at all times.
SNOW DRIVING - THE BASICS
Observe local speed limits in resorts; chain fitting bays and elsewhere
Before leaving, clear any snow from the car roof; to avoid creating a road hazard to others. Failure to do so is an offence
Drive cautiously; with gradual pressure on the accelerator to avoid wheel spin
Use of Speed; sometimes a more optimum speed can help momentum through snow drifts or travelling up hills
Avoid unnecessary gear changes; engage first or second gear on level ground before ascending or descending hills
Brake gently; front and rear wheels can lock easily with loss of steering and control
Keep well behind the vehicles in front
Avoid braking when cornering; brake before the corner while the wheels are straight
Keep well away from snow clearing machines.
It is often necessary to reverse these machines, and snow clearing operators may not be able to see you in snowdrift or falling snow conditions. Also, the fountain of snow coming from the blowers may contain ice chunks and stones;
BLACK ICE - sometimes called glare or clear ice refers to a thin coat of glazed ice that forms on the road surface.
IT IS A HAZARD. It is often practically invisible to drivers and once on it you will quickly realise you need to reduce speed and proceed with MUCH caution. While the colour is not really black, the term black ice refers to the black bitumen showing through the roadways, hence the term "black ice"
Fit chains at bays where you see the 'Fit Chains Here' sign. Always fit chains to driving wheels only. When required, four wheel drive vehicles should fit chains to front wheels.
Chain fitting bays are level and make fitting easier. If you don't use the chain fitting bay you may find yourself in a lot of trouble. Chains are hard to fit on slopes, and you will obstruct other vehicles and snow clearing equipment. At all resorts you can be fined for not carrying and fitting chains as directed.
If it has not been necessary to fit chains when travelling to the resort, it is advisable to fit them upon arrival in preparation for the return trip.
It is quite difficult to fit them to cars covered by snow.
Do not drive faster than 40kph.
CHAIN FITTING CHECKLIST
Fit chains to driving wheels only
Always test-fit chains before a trip
Fit at fitting bays on level ground
If chains fall off or loosen when in motion; stop and check brake lines for damage before re-tensioning
Keep speed below 40 kph
Carry a torch, plastic garbage bag and gloves to make fitting easier
Use correct fitting chains
Tyres mustbe in good condition with minimal wear
The use of diamond pattern chains is recommended
After removing chains your cars handling may feel different; re-adjust your driving and take care!
One of the greatest problems for a motorist driving on an alpine road in winter is the unsuitability of their car in its standard form for driving in ice and snow conditions.
For most vehicles the same standard 'summer' tyres are used all year round.
Many imported car manufacturers recommend the use of 'winter' tyres on snowy and icy roads. For most of us though this is not practical. Therefore the following must be understood by all drivers when driving in the alps
With any tyre the greater the tread wear, the less safe the tyres are in winter alpine conditions. A worn tyre may be legal to use, but it has a greatly reduced safety margin
High speed (V and Z) rated, wide based, low profile summer tyres are not suitable. Fitting chains to some vehicles is not possible as tyre and rim combination does not give enough suspension clearance.
Park only where directed. If you do not you run the risk of another vehicle or snow clearing vehicle running into what looks to the driver like just another drift of snow;
Do not apply the handbrake; moisture can freeze the cables and brake linings
Leave the car in gear; with the front wheels turned away from the slope
Always park as close to the bank; as possible to leave room for two-way traffic
Do not use rocks to chock wheels; as they may damage snow clearing machines
Remove wheel chocks; from parking area when leaving
Even if chains were not required; to enter the area it is advisable to fit them when parking
It is much easier than trying to fit them later; for the return trip if weather conditions change or the vehicle is snowbound
Cover the radiator to help prevent freezing; periodically clear snow from on and around the vehicle
Lift wipers from windscreen; or place them in plastic bags if parking for extended periods so they do not stick to the glass
Cover door locks; with masking tape to stop locks freezing up
Do not use wooden chocks; these tend to slip on icy surfaces.
For further information on snow safety, including tips for driving in the snow, visit WWW.SNOWSAFE.ORG.AU
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