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Snow. Ice. Wind. All very good reasons to stay home, tucked beneath a weighted blanket with a glass of wine. But sometimes a mom’s gotta hit the road during cold weather season. Here are essential winter driving tips to keep you and your precious cargo safe.
The writer was hosted.
Afraid to drive in the snow? You’re not alone. Here are the pro winter driving tips you need to navigate tricky driving conditions like I found in winter wonderful Stowe, VT. Whether it’s an icy road or wind-driven snow, there are ways to navigate bad weather safely, preparations to take in advance and essential items to keep on hand for safe winter travel, whether you’re heading out for winter holiday travel, to the mountains for a family ski trip or round the block for milk and cookies.
Is there anything more beautiful than a traditional New England winter snapshot? Picture snow-capped mountains, a timber-framed alpine lodge, roaring stone fireplace and snowsuit-swaddled families drinking steaming cups of hot chocolate.
That’s the scene in Stowe.
If you can get there, that is.
Monitor Winter Weather Conditions
The major problem with winter driving is the variety of conditions you encounter. There’s snow, sleet, black ice and the dreaded wintry mix. I don’t even know, technically, what a wintry mix is. It’s not a real meteorological term, right? Sounds like a cocktail to me.
The key to driving safely in winter is to be aware of the weather conditions all along your route. For example, it was a surprisingly balmy 40 degrees and sunny when I left my Hudson River Valley home in New York. As I drove, gale force winds developed, blowing snow across the road and reducing visibility. And, when I arrived in Stowe, Vermont, the forecast included snow squalls and bitterly cold temps.
So, the first winter driving tip is to keep an eye on the weather conditions. The easiest way to do that is with your default smartphone app. Before a trip, I add my destination to my location list on The Weather Channel app. It not only makes me aware of driving conditions, but also helps me with packing. It’s important to remember long underwear when single digit temps are forecast!
Managing my phone is 1-2-3 simple in a vehicle like the GMC Sierra Denali. It features a large infotainment console with both iOS and Android connectivity. There’s also a wireless charging pad and a Bose Premium Sound System. A road trip without tunes is like a ski trip without snow. My cell phone was powered up and happily streaming Spotify during the entire trip!
Winterize Your Car with the Right Tools
Confession time. Raise your hand if you’ve run out of windshield wiper fluid during a storm and drove peering through the one clear streak in the window.
Guilty as charged.
I travel prepared now and so can you. Pick a date in the late fall and establish it as your personal “Winterize Car” day. I use Election Day since I’m off from work. Make an appointment with your car service station to put on your snow tires, if you live where they’re needed. If all-season tires work for you, it’s still important to have your tire tread checked. Worn tires may function fine on dry roads but their performance is significantly reduced with wet or snowy road conditions, according to Consumer Reports.
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Consider replacing your windshield wipers too – both the front and rear window ones.
Then load your trunk or cargo space with supplies you might need on the road. I like to use a small laundry basket to keep them in one place.
Drive the Speed Limit
Have you ever been passed during a winter storm by a tiny, speeding sedan? My immediate reaction is always “Where the heck do you need to be so badly that you’re driving like a loon?”
It’s imperative to take winter roads with caution, and that means to drive the speed limit. Me? I take it down a few miles per hour to give me plenty of time to make a correction if necessary.
Clear the Exhaust Pipe
If you’re going to run your car to warm it up, take a few minutes to clear snow and ice from in and around your vehicle’s exhaust pipe.
A clogged pipe can cause dangerous levels of carbon monoxide to build up inside your car, creating a potentially dangerous situation.
If You Get Stuck
Help!!!! It will be the first thought that runs through your head, and then you’ll start rummaging through the glove compartment, looking for stale granola bars to tide you over.
The best thing you can do in this situation is to make plans in advance. First, have some type of roadside assistance plan in place so you can get help if snow or icy conditions force you off the road.
Many new cars come with a period of complimentary assistance, like OnStar. These can become quite pricey to retain, however. Alternatives include reliable AAA. They’ve been around since 1902…for a reason. They offer a variety of membership options to fit your budget.
If you don’t have a roadside assistance plan in place, notify someone of your route before you head out. And stick to major roads where it’s more likely that help will find you, should you get stuck.
Winter Emergency Kit Essentials
- ice scraper
- snow brush
- jumper cables
- kitty litter
- snow shovel
- windshield wiper fluid
- extra pair of waterproof gloves
Note: Another important winter driving tip is to remember to keep your your gas tank at least half full to prevent condensation from forming and freezing in the lines.
What’s the Most Important Winter Driving Tip?
When you buy a car today, it’s likely to be equipped with technology such as cruise control, four-wheel or all-wheel drive, anti-lock brakes and stability control. Knowing how to use these features to your advantage when driving in winter conditions will help you get to your destination safely.
But the most important tip for winter driving is…
…use your brain.
Aaron Pfau, a Vehicle Performance Engineer with GMC, reminded me that a driver’s brain needs time to process what it sees in order to react properly. Drive cautiously and keep a safe distance from other vehicles, especially snow plows whose operators are concentrating on doing their job, not watching you. Aaron also talked about braking strategies in case of a skid. His advice was to maintain steady pressure on the brake pedal – avoid pumping it.
What to Drive in Winter Weather
My ride to Vermont involved 60-mile per hour wind gusts and blowing snow that reduced visibility significantly. Fortunately, I drove a GMC Sierra Denali for my 5 1/2 hour trek from New York to Vermont. The premium full-size truck is large and features a high seating position. So I felt in command of the vehicle at all times. Like a captain at the helm of my yacht.
I also appreciated the well-designed dashboard that put the Denali’s performance features, including Traction Select and 4WD, within easy reach. It made it incredibly easy to adapt when driving conditions quickly shifted from dry, flat pavement to steep, snowy roads. Using innovative vehicle technology like the features on the Sierra Denali is one of the important winter driving tips I learned in Stowe. Here are a few more for winter driving safety.
The Right Vehicle for Winter Weather
The GMC Sierra Denali was the ideal vehicle for me to get around Stowe safely in winter. Who else might be interested in driving it?
- Professional contractors who need a truck that’s all business during the day but transforms into a luxury vehicle for nights and weekends. The Denali has a MultiPro Tailgate that includes a standing workstation.
- Commuters who can’t take off for snow days. I envy my teacher friends who get to stay home when school’s closed. If you need to get to and from work when the weather’s awful, you’ll feel safe behind the wheel of the Sierra Denali.
- Luxury sedan owners who hate having tiny trunks. The Denali is a premium ride with a massive truck bed. You’ll never pass up a “gotta have it” flea market purchase ever again.
- Truck owners who need mobility assistance. Open the door on the Denali and running boards slide out for easy access to the cab and bed.
- Got toys? Active families who tow jet skis, boats, ATVs and more will love the all-new Trailering App that makes hitching a breeze.
The Denali might not be right for you if you lack confidence. It is big. Really big. I made full use of the Surround Vision and new dual-function rear view camera to maneuver it, even in empty parking lots. You need to be willing to embrace its size. Timid drivers need not apply.
Touring Stowe in Safety
Exploring Stowe in winter is a wonderful adventure. Even if you don’t ski, there are plenty of family-friendly activities. A short drive from the Spruce Peak Lodge where I was staying, there are snowshoe trails, snowmobiling tours and ice fishing, to name a few.
Following practical winter driving tips and riding in the GMC Sierra Denali gave me a sense of security on the road. I even braved a late afternoon snow squall to drive from Stowe to Waterbury to take a tour of the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream factory. The employees were moaning about the weather and wondering how they were going to get home. Not me, I thought. Not me.
Want to Know More?
- Best Southeast Road Trips for Families
- The Great American Family Road Trip Planner
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