Mountain Reflection: Winter Driving

October 26, 2010 Updated: October 1, 2015

Skiers descend a mountain at Valle Nevado skiing centre in the Andes Mountains, some 50 km from Santiago, on August 13, 2010. (Martin Bernetti/AFP/Getty Images)
Skiers descend a mountain at Valle Nevado skiing centre in the Andes Mountains, some 50 km from Santiago, on August 13, 2010. (Martin Bernetti/AFP/Getty Images)
Leadville, CO—The snow started coming down pretty good yesterday, and I knew this one wasn't going to blow over quickly. With the arrival of this fall snowstorm, the change of seasons in the mountains is now official.

It's the kind of Rocky Mountain snowstorm that comes along and puts the exclamation point at the end of “Autumn!” brushing away any lingering feelings of summer you still cling to.

Gravity-defying snow that comes at you clumpy, wet, and sideways, as if it was ridden like a rocket through space just to steer it into your ear.

This storm coincided with grand opening announcements from two nearby resorts, kicking off this year's ski season and subsequent seasonal traffic.

Despite the restlessness of skiers and boarders anticipating first tracks, the autumn snowstorm is also known for wreaking havoc on unsuspecting drivers of all ages and skill levels, leading to traffic accidents along interstate mountain corridors, state highways, and county roads.

Yes sir, you can tell a lot about a person through his/her winter driving habits, as the good and the bad make their appearance.

There is the unstoppable driver, determined to maintain speed and momentum through trying obstacles, wayward drifters, and the dogged resistance of frozen moisture. This person goes fast, regardless. You are at the mercy of such an experienced predator, and it's best to just pick your path, stay with it, and do not interfere. Don't even look over there.

Then there is the extra-timid mouse, with hazards blinking and a road flare waving out the window (a white-knuckle 10 mph going uphill); a fallout shelter on wheels. Be careful with this one, as you will not be able to explain how you bumped into it.


Of course, excluded from such scrutiny is the “relax, it's just snow” local driver. This being has earned her stripes, granted to year-round residents and experienced winter drivers. In the “relax” routine the local is casual while driving, using borderline parody to illustrate comfort and ease during treacherous winter conditions: window down, elbow resting on sill during a whiteout, sipping a cup of coffee (or pouring one) and fiddling with the radio dial while passing you and yours on a blind corner.

Most of us drivers fall in between, speeding and slowing as we try to make it to our destinations without bumping into things.

The beauty is that despite people generally minding their own, they're quick to offer help in times of need, such as a winter roadside breakdown. Leave the hood up, and someone will stop to give you a jump, or make sure you're not a Popsicle, etcetera.

For it's a part of living in the mountains, especially in winter, where the environment can and will take your life in a short time if you're careless, or ill-prepared. There's a certain primal appreciation for this factor.

For my fellow (and aspiring) winter drivers and ski tourists, let me pass on a local driving tip gleaned over the years.

Winter driving in the mountains is all about maintaining momentum—traction's terrible coming or going. Use the engine on the downgrade and get a running start uphill. Be two steps ahead of your present move, always looking and planning ahead. How well you manage this ebb and flow often determines whether you get there or not.

Get an early start, relax, and embrace the fellowship, as we can't see where we're going either. We just deal with it differently.

We'll get where we need to go. Maybe I'll see you there.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.