Our family recently took a long road trip across the state of Wyoming to visit family in Utah. We live on the eastern side of the state, and Utah is on the western side. The trip across Interstate 80 is normally a fairly easy and fast drive. Except in the winter. Then it gets unpredictable and not so fun.
Wyoming Winters are Not For the Faint of Heart
Bad winter weather in Wyoming is something us locals take for granted. Not because we enjoy it, necessarily, but because we know that the snow, blowing snow, and freezing blowing snow are the main reason most people don’t live here. Which is why Wyoming is such a great place to live. “Only the tough can survive it here,” we tell each other. The reality is that only the stubborn can survive it here. Toughness is secondary to plain old mule headedness.
The stretch of I-80 across southern Wyoming is especially tough in the winter, as it’s mostly at high altitudes, has a lot of crosswinds at every point, and things freeze. Really freeze. Hard. When the Wyoming Department of Transportation says that the road is not passable and closes it, they mean it. It’s not because they’re too cheap to put out snowplows to take care of it, it’s because even the snowplows aren’t able to traverse those conditions.
The trick to getting through is to not let the bull-headedness rule the day and to make sure everything that can be in your favor while driving, is in your favor. Choose a good vehicle for the conditions, know when to and when not to persevere, and understand that there are always limits. Having backup plans makes all the difference.
How does the 2019 Mazda CX-9 Perform in Cold Weather
For our family, the drive to Utah was uneventful, with the roomy 2019 Mazda CX-9 going strong and the five of us had a good time with family and friends there. On the way back, however, the trip wasn’t so smooth. Before even leaving Utah to get to the Wyoming border, we found out that Wyoming was, essentially, closed by a big storm. If we crossed the border, we’d be stuck in Evanston, a border town that exists largely to give Utah residents willing to drive there a taste of what Wyoming’s freedom is really like. Well, the easy to sell parts of that freedom anyway. Mostly cheap liquor and fireworks.
So we stayed in the Heber Valley, just before the Wyoming-Utah border at I-80, and enjoyed the mountains instead. For one more day. The next morning, getting the all clear, we climbed into our Mazda CX-9 and headed into the Cowboy State. Through the first half of the drive, things were largely uneventful. The roads had obviously been closed for a reason, as the multiple wrecks to either side and the occasionally slippery spot made clear. The CX-9 held its course, though, the all-wheel drive doing its job perfectly.
Handling Bad Weather on a Road Trip
At roughly the halfway point, in the town of Rock Springs, Wyoming, the weather began to make us wonder what was next. We weren’t making good time, which was due to a combination of an illness requiring frequent bathroom breaks and the rigamarole involved with wrangling three kids on a road trip. We managed to make Rawlins, Wyoming, about two-thirds of the total driving distance, with daylight still to spare. So we expected to make a quick drive-thru dinner stop and refuel the CX-9 before finishing the drive. Our plan was to get home to Cheyenne by 8pm.
Plans are great, except when they don’t work out. Our drive-thru complete and the fuel tank filled, we left Rawlins and called 511 for road and weather information just in time to find out that the freeway was again closed, just a mile or so out of town from where we were. So we took the next exit and turned around to head back into Rawlins proper.
There are ways around this, of course. The maps and my knowledge of the area said that we could have driven around the freeway using some highways, but when the road closes like that, there’s a good reason for it. A close look at the weather report explained it: as the sun was setting, the higher altitudes around Elk Mountain were seeing more and more wind. Wind blows snow, which was now ice thanks to the freezing temperatures. Ice isn’t good on the roadway.
Can the Mazda CX-9 Handle Snow and Ice?
That Roadway Inn looked pretty swell in comparison to the risk of plowing the whole family into a ditch on some deserted side highway. So we got a room. The next morning, after a long breakfast and plenty of dawdling to let the sun come up and get to work on the roads, we finally headed out. The freeway was open, but the way wasn’t as great as it it could have been. Luckily, the Mazda CX-9 has solid capability on the snow and ice if the driver is willing to go easy on the controls and let the safety systems do their thing to limit wheel slip. We got through to Laramie and then over the big mountain to Cheyenne and home.
The final say here? If winter roads are coming, take your time with them. Make sure you have backups and flexible backup-backups. Use the resources at your disposal to be sure that you can be informed. Every state, for example, has a 511 road-weather information system that’s free to call from any working phone. Most states have websites that offer the same information.
Given enough patience, information, and prudence, it’s possible to make a winter road trip a success. In all, the two day delay in getting home resulted only in the kids missing a day of school and our spending a little more money than planned to make our vacation road trip a success. We got to spend the time we wanted with family, we arrived home safely, and we have great stories to tell from the adventure. I’d call that a win.