Winter driving

A line of vehicles carefully traverses N.C. 194 on a snowy day.

Winter driving can be considered an art form, especially here in the High Country. Western North Carolina is firmly planted in the Sunbelt South, yet due to our beautiful mountains, the highest east of the Rockies, winter weather is a serious issue when it comes to our roads.

Thankfully, due to the nature of our weather and the importance of our winter attractions such as ski resorts and tubing venues, there is proper funding for salt trucks and road scrapers that many other states further north than us do not have in their arsenal. Still, being prepared for winter driving and knowing how to drive in rough weather are essential skills for those visiting and living here in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

For those able to do so or have access to such vehicles, time spent learning to ride an ATV during wintertime will prove invaluable when it comes to learning how to maneuver in inclement weather.

If that isn’t possible, especially if you spend most of your time down off the mountain where snow is rare, there are some tips that will help out when it comes to driving in winter weather.

The No. 1 tip is to have your vehicle prepared for the winter months. Things to look at include making sure you have good window wipers on your vehicle as snow and ice will destroy old ones and quickly make them dangerous to use. To go along with that, make sure that our vehicle has the right radiator fluid in it because if your engine freezes at night when it is off, it will wreck your engine. Plus, you will need strong heat coming through your vehicle heater to both keep you warm and to clear the ice off of the front window. So, check your radiator fluid and make sure it is full of a good winter-proof mix of fluid.

When it comes to driving the proper vehicle in the snow and ice, all-wheel-drive or 4-wheel-drive vehicles are best. You can get by with a two wheel-front wheel drive vehicle, but there will be times when it is better to leave them at home.

Driving an all-wheel-drive or 4-wheel-drive vehicle gives you maximum control when driving in winter conditions.

Some prefer to put chains on their tires during periods of high snow and there are many gas stations, tire stores and mechanics that will sell them and install them. Though rarely needed, yet effective when the roads are especially rough, there are rules of the road that must be heeded when in use so know when to remove them if the weather warms up.

The next tip is to expect that the worst can happen. One thing that folks in the north do is to keep some blankets, flares and even a jar of peanuts and some water in the car should you slide of the road and end up down a hill where no one can see you or find you. If you are hurt or you can’t open your doors, these items may save your life. It is also a good idea to keep your cell phone charged up at all times. Mainly, be careful when leaving the main roads to go and drive on the side roads, which are more dangerous and less maintained.

Other things to keep in your vehicle during the winter months as suggested by the Triple AAA (American Automobile Association) organization, the Blue Ridge Visitors Vacation Guide and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration include a shovel in case you have to dig yourself out of trouble, a stout windshield ice scraper, kitty litter or sand for both traction and weight, jumper cables in case your battery gets too cold, flares and emergency markers, your needed medications, charged up flashlights, hand warmers and extra antifreeze for your radiator in case your vehicle overheats.

Because of the unique geography of the High Country, there is always going to be a combination of natives who are used to winter driving and visitors from down the mountain who are not as adept at driving in snow and ice. Getting a head of steam while driving up a snowy incline can be essential as going too slow will cause you to stop too soon and then the spinning of the tires begins. On the other hand, going too fast on a snowy road can lead to disaster as well. So, there is a middle ground that comes from experience, therefore pay attention to the road conditions around you, don’t take chances and help each other when possible.

For updates on High Country road conditions, you can get information by calling the North Carolina Department of Transportation at (877) 368-4968.

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