This kind of traffic is way too common; photo credit: Sean McCoy

How Not to Drive in Snow

Want to know how to drive in snow? It’s easy — just don’t do these boneheaded things.

I grew up in Wisconsin driving in snow. Even during a stint where I lived and worked in the Caribbean, I found ways to get to the snowy mountains to ski every year. Today, I drive the sketchy I-70 in Colorado nearly every week. I’m sitting at Copper Mountain as I type this.

The reason: I know how to drive in the snow safely.

Even with a modern, high-tech vehicle, your skills as a driver are critical. After recently driving from the On-Snow Demo ski test in Winter Park, Colorado, in a whipping snowstorm, I was reminded that the remarkably capable GMC Acadia I was testing only enhanced my skills. But it wasn’t a substitute for smart driving.

GMC Acadia In Snow
Slick weather meets the GMC Acadia on Berthoud Pass; (photo/Sean McCoy)

Drive in Snow: What Not to Do

First, check out the video below. There’s not much the drivers in Montreal could have done. That’s just an insanely slick road. But, without going into a full-blown rant, let’s just say that a lot of drivers make foolish mistakes when the white hits the ground.

Want to end up in the ditch with them? Here’s how.

Drive Fast

If the roads are snowy or icy, slow down! Like, a lot. Go slower than the speed limit — sometimes a lot slower. If you’re from Texas or California and zipping past a lot of vehicles with Colorado plates while rolling up I-70, you’re probably driving too fast.

Make Sudden Lane Changes

Want to spin out on a slippery road? Quickly turning your wheels is a surefire way to lose control when it’s slick. Instead, make smooth, steady turns. Don’t try to suddenly dart from lane to lane.

Slam on the Brakes

Modern cars have darned good anti-lock braking systems. But you know what? Not everyone has them. Moreover, you should simply practice cautious, slow movements when driving on snowy roads, and that includes braking.

Drive defensively, and start braking much earlier than you would need to on dry or even wet pavement.

Mash on the Gas

Much like breaking, accelerating should be done slowly and smoothly on slippery surfaces. Try not to spin your tires, and you’ll keep much better traction and ultimately accelerate more quickly than if you gas it and wind up fishtailing all over an intersection.

Look at Your Phone

Due to all the reasons above, you need more reaction time when driving in the snow. Don’t be a dumbass and look at your phone (ever). And that goes double — no, triple — during a snowstorm.

Drive on Bald Tires

Not only is it stupid, but in some places (like Colorado) it’s illegal. You need good tires in the winter. If you plan to spend a lot of time in a snowy place, consider winter snow tires, or even studded tires if they’re legal in your state.

Colorado Has New Snow Tire Requirements for Passenger Vehicles
Colorado Has New Snow Tire Requirements for Passenger Vehicles

Hoping to lessen some of the horrific traffic in Colorado ski country, the state's Department of Transportation recently approved new tire requirements. Read more…

For those making short trips to snowy locales who may have a little less tread than is recommended, look into traction devices like the Auto Sock or chains. They can really get you out of a bind, especially if you’re driving a two-wheel-drive car.

Think Your 4×4 Is Invincible

Yes, having four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive helps a lot in the snow. But you know what? All vehicles have four-wheel braking. So your tank of an SUV will stop just as badly as a small sedan on icy roads. Even in your big truck, drive slowly and cautiously.

That’s about it. Take it slow, take it easy, and be prepared for the worst with a decent safety kit in your car. Safe travels!

Sean McCoy

Editorial Director Sean McCoy is a life-long outdoorsman who grew up hunting and fishing central Wisconsin forests and lakes. He joined GearJunkie after a 10-year stint as a newspaperman in the Caribbean, where he learned sailing and wooden-boat repair. Based in GearJunkie's Denver office, McCoy is an avid trail runner, camper, hunter, angler, mountain biker, skier, and beer tester.