This question is often asked by people going to spend their first season in the mountains. It is a pretty easy question to answer.
Yes, you do need snow tyres if you are planning to use your car in the mountains in the winter.
As an airport transfer driver, when customers asked me about my tyres, I got the impression that many people suspect that winter tyres, or snow tyres, might be a bit of a gimmick. Something else that we don’t need being advertised to us by big companies that want some money out of us. To dispel this myth, you just need to look at the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Lithuania, Latvia, Norway, Romania, Slovenia and Sweden amongst other countries where winter tyres are a legal requirement during the winter months.
Driving on snow with winter tyres as opposed to normal road tyres is a very different experience. If you look at normal road tyres, you will see that the tread runs mainly in the direction of travel, and rather than providing grip, the function of the tread is to allow water to be expelled from beneath the tyre. Snow tyres, however, have deep tread running across the tyre that can grip on snow.
Another big difference is that winter tyres are made of softer rubber. This means that they provide much more grip at lower temperatures. As temperatures fall below 7 degrees, the rubber in normal road tyres becomes much harder and reduces their effectiveness.
But can’t I just put snow chains on when it is snowing?
You could, but as mentioned above, snow tyres are much more effective in the cold, not just on snow and ice. It is also a major hassle putting chains on and more so taking them off. Snow chains must only be used on snow, so if you are travelling down the mountain, you will need to remove them once you get below the snow line, or if you find yourself on a well cleared main road. If you are coming back up the mountain later in the day, you will need to put the chains back on again.
Can I just fit 2 snow tyres?
You do find that a few cars in the mountains will have only fitted two snow tyres to the front wheels (of front wheel drive cars – rear wheel drive cars don’t work well in the snow whatever you do). This is better than having no snow tyres at all, but can be dangerous as the front of your car, with snow tyres and the weight of the engine, will have loads more grip than the back of your car. So, in for a penny, in for a pound, as they say. Get all 4.
Which are the best snow tyres?
Like with anything, you get what you pay for. The big brands are the most reliable. The best tyres I have had are the Michelin Alpin series. Stay away from any tyres that offer a compromise between snow and road. You will see these marketed as 4 season tyres or year round tyres, but they are not great in the snow or on the road.
Doing a season and have people coming to visit?
If you are doing a season this winter and have people coming to visit, have a look at the FindTransfers.com Shared Transfers page for the best way to get from the airport to resort. All the airport transfer companies on the site will have some good snow tyres fitted!