Top tips for driving in snow

Following the chaotic scenes in the French Alps on 27 Dec 2014, we thought we would offer a few tips just in case you ever found yourself facing similar conditions.

Make sure your vehicle is fitted with winter tyres

We wrote an article about winter tyres last year. When I was a transfer driver in the Alps, I got the feeling that many of my customers thought that winter tyres were just a marketing ploy and would not make much difference. This is not the case. Good winter tyres are amazing and they are essential if you want to have any hope of driving on a snow covered road. Not only that, but they are hugely beneficial even when the road is simply very cold or a little bit icy. If you are thinking of renting a car, then make sure it is fitted with snow tyres (many are not). If you are driving to the Alps from somewhere warmer, then this may not be a feasible option for you but read on for some more tips.

If you are already worried about not having winter tyres, then book a transfer as all of the vehicles operated by companies operating in the mountains will be fitted with snow tyres.

Carry snow chains – and use them if needed

You absolutely must have snow chains in your vehicle when driving in the Alps. Again, if you are hiring a car look in to this as they will not come as standard.

Make sure that the first time you attempt to put snow chains on is NOT the first time you need them. I have seen a thousand people standing at the side of the road looking at snow chains like you would look at a 10,000 piece jigsaw. Practice putting them on somewhere nice and dry and bright.

If it starts snowing heavily and the road is becoming covered in snow, then look for a place where you can pull over and put your chains on. Do not keep going until you can’t go any further because your wheels are spinning, because then you will get in everyone’s way and cause chaos. This was the main cause of the issues in France that made headlines – cars got themselves stuck in the snow and prevented the snowploughs from clearing the roads.

Conversely, don’t put your chains on if there is no snow on the road – this will really damage the road surface.

Do you know who is guaranteed to be carrying chains and able to fit them in just a few minutes? Professional transfer drivers.

Use a low gear when driving downhill, high gear when driving uphill

If you are driving downhill in snow, the aim of the game is to use your breaks as little as possible. By putting your vehicle in a low gear, the engine will control the speed which reduces the risk of you locking the wheels up when breaking.

If you are driving uphill in snow, then get up the gears as soon as possible. This will reduce the torque and will mean there is less chance of you spinning your wheels. Also when driving uphill in snow, try to maintain momentum. This does not mean “drive fast”, it just means try to avoid coming to a complete stop, as it is really difficult to get a vehicle moving again on an uphill slope covered in snow (unless the vehicle is really well equipped).

Check the weather forecast

It really helps if you know what to expect. If you have got to be somewhere at a certain time, such as a ferry terminal or airport, and the forecast is for heavy snow, then leave yourself plenty of time. By this, I don’t mean an extra half-hour – you should be leaving hours ahead of schedule.

Clear snow off your vehicle before setting off

I have seen a few people who think it is a novelty to drive off with half a metre of snow on the roof of their car after it was parked outside all week in a ski resort. However, this can be really dangerous as if you have to break, this snow could cascade all over your windscreen – and driving in the mountains is hard enough when you can see where you’re going. If the snow doesn’t fall on your windscreen, then it will probably come off sideways when you are going round a corner and could hit another vehicle. Just take a few minutes and get it off your roof and bonnet one way or another. You should also make sure that all of the windows are clear of snow and ice, and also clean snow and ice off your lights.

Put anti-freeze / de-icer in your windscreen wash or use a special formula

There are lots of things involved in maintaining a vehicle in the Alps, but this is perhaps one of the most important things to remember.

The roads are heavily gritted, which is great for preventing ice and stopping light snow from settling. The downside to all this grit is that your windscreen becomes caked in it if you drive behind any vehicle for any amount of time. So, you instinctively pull the stick / press the button to wash the windscreen and it is an absolute disaster if the windscreen wash liquid is frozen because your windscreen wipers simply smear the dirt all over your windscreen making it 10 times more difficult to see. When you put the anti-freeze – de-icer in with the fluid, give it a good spray so that you get all of the non-treated liquid out of the system.

Drive slowly and steadily and keep your distance

I was going to try to avoid stating the obvious but it needs to be said. The last thing you want to do on snow or ice is to stop in a hurry, so make sure you don’t have to. Accelerate and decelerate slowly and maintain a safe distance from anyone in front of you.

 

It is not easy to drive in snow or ice, and it is always a possibility no matter what time of the season you arrive or depart. If you are debating between driving yourself or booking a transfer with a local, experienced, professional company, I know what I would do 😉

Packing list for a ski holiday

Packing for a ski holiday can be a rather stressful experience so we thought we would help you with our packing list to give you a better idea of what you really shouldn’t leave at home!

  1. Paperwork – this should be the number one on anyone’s priority list! Put passports, money, travel insurance details, ski hire/lift pass/ski school/accommodation details all in a secure travel wallet and place it in a safe pocket of your hand luggage. This is the one thing that you do not want to forget as having to rush home for passports left on the kitchen table is probably the worst possible start to any holiday. It pays off to be organised!
  2. Ski/Snowboard clothing – right, most of us store these things in one place so this should be fairly straight forward. Make sure you make a list though so nothing is left in the back of the drawer under the bed! Our rough list includes: helmet, ski socks, base layers (thermal), sports bras (ladies only), fleeces, ski gloves, goggles, sunglasses, ski jacket (but you might want to wear this), ski pants.
  3. Other clothes – don’t be tempted to pack the high heels and the UGG boots – both equally useless in snow! A pair of comfy jeans, a couple of hoodies, a few T-shirts, PJs, underwear, socks, gloves, scarf, hat, boots (suitable for walking in the snow/on ice) should see you through the evenings just fine!
  4. If you are taking your own ski/snowboard equipment then make sure you pack it all safely in a suitable bag. If you are taking it on a flight then make sure to check the weight and size regulations of the airline – otherwise your trip could get a lot more expensive than you thought! Once again just a basic list: skis/snowboard, ski/snowboard boots, poles, small rucksack, Transceiver/shovel/probe pack if you own one, etc.
  5. Other stuff you shouldn’t forget: Sunscreen (with high SPF and keep reapplying it!), Lip salve (with SPF), phone + charger, travel plug adaptor, toiletries, moisturiser, camera (if your phone doesn’t have a decent one), iPod, book/tablet/ereader, basic medication (paracetamol, ibuprofen, diarrhoea relief, blister plasters, plasters, deep heat) or if travelling with kids then maybe more than just the basics, stuff to keep the kids entertained (favourite toy, colouring book and other baby essentials if needed.
  6. If you have room left… Small jar of marmite (or not), hair dryer (if your accommodation doesn’t have one), travel iron (no, I am just kidding!!!), water bottles, freezer zip bag for sandwiches, chocolate/granola bars, hand warmers, iPod speakers and fancy dress (might be an essential actually..).

If you don’t fancy dragging all this from your house through the airports to your destination then you should consider using a luggage concierge service. Prices are similar to ski carriage with most airlines but someone takes your bags from your house and leaves them at your accommodation so it is all ready when you arrive. We think it is a lot less stressful and more enjoyable way to travel. We have teamed up with Deliveries to the Alps who offer a 15% discount code to FindTransfers users!

We hope this article will help you with your packing! Have an amazing holiday!