Lots of people think that driving in the snow is dangerous and tricky, and some even believe that they should never drive in the snow. They get a taxi. Maybe they don't have the tires. Maybe they don't have the confidence. Or, maybe, they haven't figured out the most vital key to getting to your destination through even the toughest of blizzards. For this article, I'll forego the usual mention of snow tires as a necessity. It's true. Assume that it is true that you need snow tires. But, don't worry, I don't want to reiterate everyone's favourite "he only crashed because he was going too fast for conditions" or "if you want to drive in the snow, you need snow tires." We're tired of hearing that echo chamber. Let's look at it from a new perspective.
Regardless of snowy conditions, tires, and grip levels in general, when you're trying to get to your destination, you need to leave some space between your car and the car in front. That's a given. Remove grip, add following distance. Add gravel to the situation, you should stay at least 20 seconds behind the car in front to avoid getting stone chips. Add snow, but not snow tires, and, well, the game changes entirely. No longer should there even be a measurable following distance. You need to be at least 30 seconds behind the car in front. Talented drivers could maybe do with only 25 seconds safely.
See, not even a talented driver can stop a car on summer tires in snow, as quickly as even the worst driver can stop a car in snow on winter tires. The difference is huge. But, again, we don't want to tell everyone to just go and get snow tires. You've heard that argument and it's all water under the bridge, if you have the true key to winter driving: an understanding of momentum, braking distances, and smooth driver control inputs.
The key to kicking winter's ass, this winter driving season, lies with the smoothness of the driver. You see, in the midst of the really weird spring of 2016, my region of Ontario, Canada was hit with a truly weird weather pattern. It was 20 degrees in places and I felt like I had to take my snow tires off. The winter tires were overheating and I barely felt safe with driving on them; there was very little traction, and the tires were taking some huge wear & tear damage from the excessive temperatures. I took my snow tires off. Two days later, the temperatures had plummeted fairly unexpectedly, and there was a massive icestorm. I needed to get to work, still, though, and I worked 50 kilometers away, (actually, I literally mean exactly 50 kilometers.)
And I was late. I used my spare time to scrape the ice from the windshield, and I most certainly didn't have time for reinstalling my snow tires, which would take 10 minutes or more.
Instead, I relied upon the same expertise I offer my students. I relied upon the judgement of my stopping distances, braking points, steering reflexes and general driving smoothness. And you know what? I didn't even slide, at all, for the entire drive. My WRX just gripped. I wasn't even on all-seasons. I was on Continental Tire ExtremeContact DW tires. Those are summer only performance/luxury tires. They're made for quiet, brisk summer drives on sunny or maybe rainy days. It wasn't the tires that kept me in control. It was me. It was the fact that I travelled 20 km/h below the speed limit, left 30 seconds of following distance wherever possible, and didn't over-react to the other cars. I planned my braking points and turn-in points to compensate for the lack of grip. I kept my steering neat and tidy. I kept my throttle (mostly) in check, although who can really say that they don't let their turbocharged 265 bhp engine breathe a little from a stop light every once in a while? Way. Too. Much. Fun.
And, it worked. This winter, do what the rest of the internet says and get some good snow tires. Or, don't, since I can't convince you to spend your money on something you don't think is necessary. But, no matter whichever tires you have, don't depend on the tires. Depend on your skill. Your skill and better judgement will not stop at a certain temperature. Your skill only grows with a wider variety of conditions. Get out and drive, even in the winter. Or especially, really. Oh, and say "hello! Like my summer tires?" to every winter tire driver who still wound up in a ditch by overdriving their car as you drive past. Did I mention that I drove past an 8 car pileup on summer tires? Funny, that. I wonder how I did it...
Andrew Geier is an accomplished automotive enthusiast, with 15 years of automotive experience. At age 22, he created Melons' Better Driving in an effort to make people rethink the automotive world with insightful vision and articles about the future of the automotive culture and all of its subcultures, including motorsports. Seen in the site's background image, examining a road which was torn up by rally cars with his friends, his passion is clearly demonstrated by his excited pose.