Driving Through the Mountains during Wintertime

Are You Prepared for Winter Roads?

By Tiffany Nguyen

One of my favorite parts about the changing seasons is how they open up new avenues for exploration. You may have been somewhere a dozen times, but seeing that exact location covered in fresh snow is an entirely new experience. There is a newfound appreciation for its beauty. To me, winter is one of the most magical times of the year. Some of my favorite travel memories are from long days and nights chasing fresh powder, which is all about being in the right place at the right time.

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But as magical as it is, winter is, without a doubt, one of the most challenging times to be on the road. It’s good to be prepared for anything on an adventure—no matter the season—but it’s even more critical during winter. Knowing how to handle precarious situations and react appropriately in the moment is essential in ensuring safety. Adaptability, which includes having the knowledge and expertise to get yourself out of a situation is key as winter conditions can change on a dime—what may have been an easily passable road yesterday might require extra equipment and navigational skills today.

Driving in the wintertime also means having supplies on-hand, such as chains, gloves, a flashlight, and a windshield scraper. When I set off on a winter adventure, I always check road conditions because road closures are common and, let’s be honest, can ruin your day. Even if a road isn’t fully closed, it may require you to use tire chains for safe passage. Buying chains specific for your tires in advance will save you the major headache of having to buy at a steep mark-up on the side of the road. Anyone who’s ever been stuck in the snow knows that it’s a terrible experience to be avoided at all costs.

I’ve also found having a good pair of waterproof gloves will save your hands when you have to put on the chains in freezing temperatures. And nothing is a bigger lifesaver than a good windshield scraper when you come out to your car after a long night of heavy snow. Ensuring good visibility on the road will allow you to react appropriately to hazards and keep yourself and your passengers safe.

During one of my trips up to Mammoth, I experienced these lessons the hard way. Even though the car I was driving had all-wheel drive, it was not equipped with winter tires. Where I live in California, winter tires aren’t common and it’s rare to encounter a situation where you would need them. Based on the current reported road conditions, AWD seemed like it would be sufficient for the trip up to Mammoth. But as my friend and I made our way closer to the mountains, it was clear that the road was very slick with patches of black ice throughout. Considering that we weren’t equipped for the circumstances, we had to make the decision to turn back and return when the roads improved. Awareness of current road conditions and regulations is necessary, but it’s always important to be continually assessing the situation so that you can approach things as safely as possible.

Despite the dangers, winter is probably still my favorite time to be on the road. As long as you’re prepared, you get to enjoy the serenity of nature without the usual crowds, and you have access to some of the most outstanding views that Mother Nature has to offer. It’s never quieter than when fresh snow is falling, and a blanket of snow on your favorite vistas allows you to appreciate them in an entirely new way.

Whether you’re heading up to the mountains for a fresh powder day on the slopes or getting ready to head out on a snowshoeing expedition, winter really is a time like no other. It can be an intimidating time to be on the road, but as long as you’re prepared with the necessary knowledge and equipment, it can be one of the most rewarding adventures you’ll embark on.

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