02 August 2010

Safety on the Slopes

OUTthere Magazine Issue 74, August 2010
Winter is snow season and thousands of us will be heading to the Alps for a ski break at one of the NSW or Victorian resorts. Many of us will choose to drive to the slopes and some, unfortunately, will come unstuck on the treacherous roads. Snow driving is so completely foreign to most urban commuters that many will find themselves in trouble before they even knew they are in danger. If you intend to drive yourself or your family on a ski holiday, make sure your vehicle and yourself are ready for this alien environment. Here's a simple checklist before you set out;
  • Make sure your airconditioner, anti-freeze, wipers, brakes, lights and tyres are in tip-top condition. You'll need your air-conditioner to clear a fogged windscreen, wipers to clear snow and frost, and tyres with good tread for slushy roads. Drive with your lights on, even if you think you don't need to.
  • Drive to the conditions. Yeah, we've all heard that old chestnut, but snow driving is a condition few of us face regularly so our daily driving habits could be our downfall. Heavy snow is like the worst rainstorm with a film of oil on the road. Drive slowly and use brake and accelerator delicately. Turn the steering wheel gently, understeer is your enemy and will soon see you in a ditch or facing oncoming traffic.
  • True, All-Wheel-Drive (AWD) and 4WD will make snow driving safer, but don't rely on electronic driving aids too much. They're not infallible. Imagine you don't have anti-lock brakes and traction control and drive accordingly. Don't use cruise control and select low gears for up- and downhill sections.
  • Expect the unexpected. Imagine there is a rockfall or avalanche around every blind corner – or another stranded motorist. When passing oncoming traffic, slow right down and give heaps of space. Stop if you have to.
  • If you are proceeding along an unfamiliar route and there is a fresh covering of snow, seriously consider whether you should be the first to explore this road. Wait for a local to go first.
  • Diesel drivers should use 'Alpine Diesel' formulated for cold conditions. Normal diesel can 'wax' and clog you fuel system.
  • Always carry some emergency gear. A small shovel, tow rope, high power torch and visibility vest is a good start.
  • In extreme conditions you are required by National Park Regulations to carry snow chains. You will be notified where you must fit these and you should know how to do it. Some resorts offer chain fitting services, but don't rely on this. Always fit chains to your drive wheels ie front wheels on front-wheel-drive cars. Don't laugh, it's happened. 4WDs are exempt, but chains can still be fitted for extra safety.
  • If you regularly travel to snowy regions, consider a spare set of wheels and tyres with special snow/ice tyres fitted.
There's nothing like good preparation, so even if your car is ready for the snow, what about you? Specialised 4WD training clinics are widely available and if you are an adventurous off-road driver, why not add some new skills to your portfolio? You'll be glad you did.

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