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Safe Driving on Ski Trips -- Part 2 -- If You Get in Trouble

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Safe Driving on Ski Trips -- Part 2 -- If You Get in Trouble

Loren Varner
February 20, 2006

Whether you’re leaving the city heading to the Mammoth Mountain/Lake Tahoe High Sierra country for its beauty and relaxation, or planning that ski trip from Scottsdale to Snowbowl, here are some tips for a safe and pleasant journey, and how to deal with trouble, should it arise.

Slow down. A highway speed of 65 miles per hour may be safe in dry weather, but an invitation for trouble on snow and ice. Snow and ice make stopping distances much longer, so keep your seat belt buckled and leave more distance between your vehicle and the vehicle ahead. Look farther ahead in traffic. Actions by other drivers will alert you to problems and give you extra seconds to react. Remember to avoid sudden stops and quick direction changes. Do everything slowly and gently. Anticipate turns and stops. Leave plenty of distance between you and other cars. Drive as if there were eggs on the bottom of your feet; step on the gas and the brake pedals so gently that you don't break the eggshell. Trucks take longer to stop, so don't cut in front of them.

Watch out for fog; it drifts rapidly and often is patchy. In foggy conditions, drive very slowly using lowered headlights. Don't hang on to the taillights of the vehicle in front. This gives you a false sense of security and means you may be driving too close. Don't speed up suddenly, even if it seems to be clearing. You can find yourself suddenly back in thick fog. If you should find yourself stuck, turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way. Keep a light touch on the gas, and ease forward. Don't spin your wheels; you'll just dig in deeper. Rocking the vehicle is another way to get unstuck. (Check your owner's manual first, as it can damage the transmission on some vehicles.) Shift gently from forward to reverse, and back again. The best approach to recovering from a skid is the same for both front and rear-wheel drive vehicles. If your rear wheels start to skid, turn the steering wheel in the direction you want the front wheels to go. If your rear wheels are sliding left, steer left. If they're sliding right, steer right. As you continue to correct, you may have to steer left and right a few times to get your vehicle completely under control.

If your front wheels skid, take your foot off the gas and shift to neutral, but don’t try to steer immediately. As the wheels skid sideways, they will slow the vehicle and traction will return. As it does, steer in the direction you want to go and accelerate gently.

If your car has an anti-lock braking system (ABS), keep your foot on the pedal. If not, pump the pedal gently, pumping more rapidly as your car slows down. Braking hard with non-anti-lock brakes will lock the wheels and make the skid worse.

Do not use a mobile phone while driving. Stop somewhere safe or ask a passenger to make the call. On a freeway, it is better to use a roadside emergency telephone, because the emergency services will be able to locate you easily. If you have to use a mobile phone, make sure you know your location from the numbers on the marker posts on the side of the road.

If your car gets stuck out on the road run the heater every 10 minutes but never fall asleep with the car running. In blizzard conditions, especially overnight, make sure one person stays awake, because help could take some time to arrive. Maintain circulation by moving your feet, hands, and arms. Avoid alcohol. It lowers body temperature and will cause you to become drowsy. Stay in the vehicle. Don't wander and get lost or frostbitten. Leave one window cracked open. Freezing winds and wet, driving snow can quickly seal a vehicle. Clean any snow from around the end of the tail pipe to prevent carbon monoxide buildup. Clear outside heater vents -- that’s the grill under the windshield.

Signal to other motorists that you're stranded by using flares or flashlights, or by tying a piece of brightly colored cloth to the radio antenna and using your “Help” sign.

So, whether you wish to stay at an Aspen resort and spa, or a luxury Vail hotel, there’s much more involved than just finding discounted hotel accommodations; be sure to plan a safe and pleasant trip -– and ski safely, as well!

Loren Varner is a Contributing Editor at AreaMaps.org, a site providing quick and easy access to city and resort area information, coupled with dynamic maps detailing many local accommodations, restaurants and attractions. It will furnish everything you need to reference in order to plan a memorable and successful trip, whether you wish to stay in Scottsdale, at Aspen, or Vail.

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