Tips on getting to your snowy Thredbo accommodation
Have you ever driven in snowy conditions? It can be an exhilarating experience, something you, your children or friends will never forget. Provided you heed a few basic rules, it can be the fun kind of exhilarating rather than the priceless dinner time story of angst and suffering, broken down in the dark on a cold snowy road, a long way from home..that sort of thing!
The good news is that the angst is easy to avoid, with good preparation driving in snow can be an enjoyable adventure.
1. Tyres, Chains and Drive Trains
Contrary to popular belief you won’t need to fit snow chains on car tyres the instant you leave Cooma heading for the Snowy Mountains. A pre requisite for fitting chains is snow or ice on the road, if there is none of that, leave the chains in the boot. Tyre chains are not needed on four wheel drive vehicles with a low range gear selector. However not all 4WD vehicles are up to the challenge. In the end it is all about the tyres, if you have the latest Porsche Cayenne 4WD with low profile street slick tyres on, then inspite of your $200k+ of 4WD muscle, the tyres will let you down and you will struggle on slippery roads.
If you have an “all wheel” drive vehicle without a low range option, you should carry chains and if you drive a two wheel drive vehicle you definitely need to carry them in your car and put them on your tyres when advised.
When and how are you advised? If the snow is falling down to the road, or if there is particularly poor driving conditions (ice on the road) there will usually be either portable signage (flashing road signs) or someone from the Roads and Maritime Service (RMS) or from Parks and Wildlife to tell you to put them on. Otherwise you will have to wheel out that undervalued asset….common sense. Even if there is snow beside the road, if the actual road surface is clear and there is no snow or ice then you do not need chains on. If there is snow or ice beginning to build up on the road, and your car is not a 4wd….you should fit chains.
There are ‘chain fitting bays’ along the roads heading up to snow resorts, these are sections of the road designed for pulling over and fitting chains safely so you won’t be covered in a slush bath by passing vehicles. It is a really good idea to use these bays for fitting chains as they are safe and flat and there is plenty of room. Don’t wait until you are slipping sideways on a hill, on a blind corner to think of putting your chains on, that will be the wrong kind of exhilaration!
Remember, if you do have to fit chains on the road side choose a good clear location away from bends and with a wide road shoulder to pull onto. Beware of snow filled ditches, if you drive into one it is often a slow process getting out again. Put on the hazard lights and have someone watching for oncoming traffic as you fit the chains.
You can hire chains from hire outlets in either in Cooma, Berridale or Jindabyne. They can advise you how best to put them onto your particular type of vehicle. Insist on a demonstration when you hire! It is easier to see it done first so if you do need to fit on a mountain roadside, you have some idea of what to do. Don’t be daunted. It’s a little like wrapping your tyre in a christmas present, it doesn’t require any special qualification. However a piece of plastic to kneel on and a jacket that doesn’t mind gettting up close and personal with your car tyre is a good idea.
To make life easy there is a new APP available for IOS and Android called Snowy Roads that can take the guess work out of when to fit chains and even how to fit them. It has updated information on road conditions and chain fitting requirments from the RMS. It also comes loaded with some “how to” videos so even if you have no phone signal, the app will still show you how to fit chains.
Lastly, with snow chains it is good to fit them when you need and then a huge relief for everyone if you take them off when you no longer need them. At a maximum speed of 25km/hour, driving with chains on is tedious after the intial excitement wears off (5 minutes). If the road surface is clear and you have no more big hills to climb ion your journey then the chains have done their job and they deserve to be back in the bag, in the boot.
2. Low Speed, Shallow Trajectory and Space.
The trick with driving in snow conditions is to keep your speed on the low side and be at all times prepared so that you do not have to stop or change direction suddenly. Leave much more distance between your car and the one in front so if you have to brake you can do it gradually with light pressure on the pedal. Remember if you brake hard enough that your wheels start to slide then you will have no steering either so light braking is essential for good control. At the risk of repeating myself….. go slow and leave much more distance between your car and the one in front so you will have plenty of time to react and will only need light braking. It helps to keep music and other inside car distractions to a minimum. Make sure you feel well-rested and alert.
If you manage your speed and space then the exhilartion from driving in the snow will come from the scenery and not from your car sliding gracefully sideways like an ice hockey puck.
3. Slow down early for corners and be aware.
Look well ahead on the road and plan ahead when you are coming to a corner, particularly when you are going down hill. Slow down well before the corner so you are not carrying speed and will be able to turn gradually into the bend. Sharp direction changes at speed don’t work when driving on snow so losing speed before the corner is essential.
You also need to go slow into corners so you are ready to react if there is an obstacle that you can’t yet see.
4. Clear Snow and Ice off before you drive.
If your car is parked outside in a snow storm you will have to clear the snow and ice off before you begin driving so you and the drivers behind have good visibility. The best way to clear snow off your car is not to drive off at 100kms an hour and have to blow off…..just put on your ski gloveand a water proof jacket/ski jacket then stick your arm out straight and drag the snow down and off your windscreen , car bonnet, roof and rear window. Taking the bulk of snow off means it won’t blow back in your face or the driver behind you once you start driving. Remember to wipe the snow away from the top of each car door before you open the door so you don’t get a driver’s seat full of snow.
To clear your windows and windscreen just start your car, turn your heater up high, on defrost mode for the windscreen and rear window, then just wait for 5 minutes and the ice will melt away. You can use a plastic ice scraper to remove heavy build up on the windows but running the car’s defrost mode is the best way. Remember to clear ice off your side mirrors, the plastic scraper or an old credit card is good for this little job.
You will see many cars left parked with their windscreen wipers sticking up to avoid having them freeze to the windscreen this can be done but if you take the time to warm your car up before you drive then this is not necessary.
Make sure all your windows are clear before you start driving as fogged and frosted windows can be more deadly than a car passenger who has eaten a can of baked beans and really needs a loo break. Adding special anti-freeze solution to your windscreen washing fluid is a good idea as it means you can wash your windscreen and not have the fluid immediately freeze so you can’t see out! More unnecessary exhilaration. Ask at any service station en route to the snow. You can also buy ice scrapers from service stations to help scrape windscreens and windows.
5. Black Ice
You may hear people talk of black ice and wonder what it is. It is not a drink involving vodka. It occurs on sections of roads where moisture has frozen on the road creating spots that are extremely difficult to detect as they are the same colour as a wet road and not obvious like white ice sections. Don’t slam brakes on suddenly and take care on corners and keep the speed conservative. Being aware of outside temperature is a good way to help detect possible Black Ice. If it is 1o degrees outside then the road is probably just wet. If it is 3 degrees or less there is a real risk of ice, particularly on shaded sections of the road. Sliding on Black Ice at 80kms an hour is the wrong kind of exhilaration and is best avoided.
6. Tyre condition
Car tyres play a huge part in safe driving on snow and ice. Tyres should be in good order, roadworthy and with good tread. New tyres have between 8mm and 9mm tread depth, older tyres should never be below 4mm tread depth, as water, ice and snow has nowhere to flow if treads are bald. Wide tyres are not as good as narrower tyres and low profile street tyres are next to useless. If you have a vehicle with wide low profile tyres you may even have trouble finding chains or snow socks to fit. For more information speak to some experts at Cooma Tyresplus on 02 6452 1433 or Jindabyne Tyrepower 02 6457 2488 for further info.
7. Car service
Before any long car trip it make sense to do a quick vehicle check to see if tyres need to be rotated, check tread depths and iron out any other issues going on with your vehicle. Car batteries are another potential problem. If you battery is old it might not hold a charge well in cold weather so a battery check by your mechanic is a good idea. Don’t be that person on the side of the road shivering and waiting for the NRMA roadside service for something preventable by doing a pre-snow trip check.
Also ask your mechanic to check the “coolant” in your car radiator to make sure you have sufficient “antifreeze” to avoid any expensive damage from frozen water in your radiator lines. You can also ask them to add the “Anti Freeze” window wash solution to your windscreen washing reservior.
Fill up before heading up the mountain so you’re not in danger of running out of fuel for the same reasons. Make sure you have something warm like a snow jacket, gloves and beanie in the car in case you need to change a tyre or are waiting on the side of the road if you’re broken down. Use your hazard lights and any reflective devices in the boot of your car (check your tyre jack compartment) in case of breakdown to ensure your vehicle is visible.
If you are driving a Deisel vehicle, leave your fuel tank on the empty side as you first drive to the mountains so you can fuel up with “Alpine Mix” deisel to avoid fuel issues in cold weather. Most petrol stations from Canberra to Jindabyne will have Alpine Mix from May onwards.
Don’t Forget to Enjoy the Snow
It is exciting to see snowflakes falling onto your windshield, and banking up onto window sills of the car. When you have a well prepared vehicle, good tyres with chains or 4WD, and a good conservative driving approach you can have the exhilaration avoid the angst and add an exciting experience for a fun road trip.
Don’t forget to check out the Lantern Thredbo Apartments‘ wide selection of self-contained accommodation for when you get to the snow. There are usually some accommodation specials available, particularly if you book early.