By Ian Glover
Well, the ski season is well and truly upon us, and what a great season it is. However, we suspect the New South Wales and Victorian police probably have their own name for it; possibly something like ‘sucker season’ or perhaps, in the words of the immortal Elmer Fudd, ‘wabbit (as in bunny) season’. Whilst the skiers and snow-boarders in the office understand only too well the temptation to hasten things along a bit to maximise your time on the slopes, knowing you’ve earned yourself a speeding ticket could very well take the gloss off the weekend, and there are other reasons for taking things quietly as well … particularly when you’ve reached snow country.
Black ice is potentially the worst hazard. Black ice isn’t black at all – it’s virtually transparent, allowing the asphalt of the road to be seen through it, looking no different to the rest of the road surface, which is generally black. Most prevalent on bridges and cuttings, it affords no traction at all, and is a lot easier to cope with (by steering in the direction of your skid) at 80km/h than at 120.
Remember that even though you have a 4WD, carrying chains is compulsory in Alpine areas during winter. Best idea is to practice fitting them long before you actually have to – trying to fit them first time round with frozen fingers is like trying to fix a watch with gloves on. Often, you won’t have to. If snowfalls are light, rangers will often just wave you on. Which brings us to another point: if snow is falling heavily and visibility is adversely affected, pull over and wait rather than risk a head-on or running off the road.
With or without chains, on snow or ice-covered roads, use your gears – even if you’re in an auto – rather than the brakes to keep things on the straight and narrow. Make every driving action smooth rather than jerky and the important thing is to make everything deliberate, not reactive. Anticipate what might go wrong, and (as we always do when driving in any circumstance), expect that every other driver is going to do something stupid – always have an escape route in your head, or at least a plan to minimise damage.
A few final notes: when you’re at the resort and parked for the night, extend your wipers away from the windscreen to prevent the wiper rubbers forming a frustrating union with the glass, keep your radiator and water jacket topped up with anti-freeze, and don’t put on the handbrake – it can freeze solid overnight – just leave the vehicle in gear or in Park. If you are on steep terrain, chock your wheels if you need to.