Preparing for a Winter Drive to the Mountains

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Are you taking a vacation to the mountains?

Many people throughout the country live within a day’s drive of a great winter mountain vacation.  A family ski vacation or a weekend with friends in a cozy cabin all make for great holiday.

Sure, the planning includes fun activities: snowshoeing, skiing, snowboarding, hot tubbing, cross country skiing, dog sledding or snowmobiling. But the reality of getting to these activities could be daunting.  If it’s snowing during your drive, are your prepared for the weather?  Can your car make it?  What can you do to make the drive in as uneventful as possible?  Living in a resort mountain town, we’ve seen plenty of people who never thought through the details of their travel.  Read on for a few simple tips to make sure the vacation is the focus of your weekend, and not the disaster of your drive.  

Driving in Snow

Check the weather:

Check the weather along your route, not just at your starting point and destination.  Are you driving over a mountain pass?  If so, that is most likely going to be the toughest part of your drive.  Often rain through a valley can be dangerous snow and ice along mountain peaks.

Check the traffic:

If there is any chance of bad weather, or even if there isn’t, traffic is a bummer of a way to start out your vacation.  Is a storm predicted to move in during your drive?  Leave earlier to outpace the weather.  Do the ski resorts along your route all open at 9am?  Make sure to not time your route past the resorts near 9am.  Waze and google maps have always done me well.

Check the local authorities:

Do the local authorities offer a service to watch traffic incidents?  In California the CalTrans QuickMap offers webcams, traffic and realtime accident information all on one google mashup.  Many local authorities offer comparable offerings.

Mountain Winter Driving

Plan to keep your windshield clear:

Keeping your windshield clear can be a real challenge in bad weather.  Check your windshield wipers before your trip.  Be sure to replace them if the rubber is dry or cracking.  Replace your windshield wiper fluid with something that won’t freeze.  Driving through snow with frozen windshield wiper fluid is down right dangerous.  Parking at a rest stop or stopping by a convenience store along your route?  Be sure to pack along a snow and ice scraper to clear your windshield before you drive away.


Traction is everything when driving down a snowy mountain pass.  Check your tire tread, and know that bald tires are a recipe for disaster.  Depending on your local law enforcement standards, it may be a good idea to bring along tire chains if you don’t have snow tires on your vehicle.  In California the Highway Patrol enforces chain controls, often including R2 level controls: chains required unless your vehicle has 4WD or AWD with snow tires on all 4 tires.  If your vehicle isn’t up to it, or you’d rather put the risk on someone else’s car go ahead and rent a 4WD vehicle with snow tires.

Take It Easy:

Being in a rush, speeding through icy roads or not giving enough room between you and the vehicle in front of you are all great ways to start your vacation out with an accident.  If you aren’t used to ice and snow, or if you don’t know the area roads well enough just take it easy.  As long as you let others pass, and don’t hold up traffic (it’s always ok to pull over to let other’s pass) just enjoy your drive without stress.

Winter Vacation Drive

Pack For the Worst:

Whenever driving in inclement weather its a good idea to pack for the worst.  Bring food, water, blankets, waterproof gloves and shovel along with reasonable snow boots.  Just imagine what you’d like to have with you if you get stuck in hours of traffic in the cold because they shut down the highway.  Miles form any exit or restaurant food and snacks can keep you sane.  Blankets can keep you warm should you need to hunker down without running the car continuously for heat, and sensible snow boots and gloves are a better idea than some high heels should you need to get out of the car.

Gas Up:

Before heading for the mountain summit or driving through the ski resort’s main strip be sure to gas up.  Trying to eek by on less than a quarter tank when traffic backs up for hours isn’t the best way to start out a trip.

Take some time to plan and prepare can make for a great winter vacation in the mountains.