How to Drive Safely In the Winter Snow
It wasn't until I was forced to face my fear that I learned how to conquer it.
I've had one legitimate anxiety attack in my life. I was in Park City, Utah. It was about 9:30 p.m., and I was in the back row of a four-row passenger van driving through a snowstorm to catch my red-eye at the Salt Lake City airport. I've been less than comfortable driving in the snow ever since an ex-boyfriend and I just escaped a collision in the middle of a storm a few years back. The truck in front of us lost control. To avoid hitting it, we swerved, did a 180, and went into a highway median.
On this particular evening in Utah, I couldn't stand the fact that I was powerless as the van went faster than I would like through a sea of turns down a mountain. The tears wouldn't stop. My breath was heavy. My fingers shook as I texted my dad, worried that we would crash. An hour later, I was never so happy to be at an airport in my life.
Fast forward two years, when I was recently invited up to a ski mountain for the weekend. (Psst...Here's why you should take up skiing or snowboarding.) I was stoked. Blame it on excited bliss, but I didn't even think that driving in the snow would be a part of this. Car jam-packed with winter jackets and snowboard boots, we didn't see flurries until about four hours into our five-hour drive. My senses were heightened. I'm fine, I thought. This Buick has all-wheel drive, I thought. The snow got heavier the closer we got to Stowe, my grip tightening on the wheel, the volume on our Bryson Tiller–loaded pump-up playlist turned down just a notch. At this point, my windshield wipers were on. I felt like it was my responsibility to let my girlfriend know that I'm not the most comfortable at driving in the snow. "It's not bad," she comforted me. "We're almost there."
We got off the highway and landed on side streets as we got closer to our destination. A slow and steady 20 minutes later, we pulled in at the Stowe Mountain Lodge. I unbuckled my seat belt and let out the biggest sigh of relief. I made it, I thought. I conquered something that I thought would crush me, and that's an awesome feeling. Wanting to share my success with others, I caught up with Marcey White, the lead development engineer for the Buick Envision, for 5 tips to help you drive in the snow:
1. Be gentle.
It goes without saying that last thing you want to do when the weather's bad is to be reckless. Keep the steering, acceleration, and braking smooth. "If you're jerky or sudden with your steering wheel or are slamming on your brakes in wintry conditions, your car can be easily 'upset' because your tires have less traction," says White. "A good tip or visual is to imagine there is an egg underneath your pedals as you press on the accelerator and brake. Be aware and gentle as you press down."
2. Leave space in between you and the car in front of you.
Fact: All-wheel drive, though super helpful in the snow, does not impact breaking. It does, however, help you accelerate and turn in slippery conditions. Make sure to give yourself extra space to account for some slippage.
3. Look where you intend to go, not where the vehicle is pointing.
Whether you're walking or driving, it's customary to look in the direction that you want to go. Even if you're slipping, look away from where you think you're headed (whether a guardrail, tree, or street sign) and keep your eyes on the road. "It's an old race car driver's trick," says White. "Keep your hands on the steering wheel, and your body and car will redirect itself back to where you need to be more often than not."
4. Pass only when safe.
There may be a time when you need to pass another vehicle when you're on a highway. Make sure to plan ahead in this case, and only make that kind of move when you're on a straightaway instead of on a turn.
"A host of factors come into play when you're thinking about passing, making it a tricky maneuver," says White. "You're increasing speed, checking your blind spot, pulling out. Don't rush it."
5. Patience is key.
Whether you're going 10 minutes from home or two hours, you cannot be in a crunch. No time restriction is worth risking your life. "There is almost always going to be more traffic, more impatient and nervous drivers, and possibly poor visibility in bad weather," says White. "Be extra aware of the cars around you, because it doesn't matter how good a driver you are-you can't control the car up ahead of you as it slides or swerves. You can control how you react to it if you stay calm and focused."