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7 top tips to safer winter driving in the high mountains

Snowy RoadDriving in the high country is fabulous. Stupendous views, excellent roads and a guaranteed stimulating, enjoyable drive. When the sun is out there is nothing better. When it’s snowing things are more interesting. Here’s a distillation of the all the advice I have received over the years and tips learnt from personal experience.

Firstly, take your time. Most of the accidents I have seen have been simple slips off the road into the roadside gully, undoubtedly caused by excess speed. No one is usually hurt, apart from the driver's wallet which sustains a huge dent. Drive smoothly – not quickly.

Secondly, know where you are going. Icy roads in darkness are no place for three point turns. So, fire up the Sat Nav, download the arrival instructions for the chalet and get it right first time.

Drivers in the mountains sometimes don’t use their indicators – so always expect the unexpected. It took me two weeks to work this out – which is exactly the time most people spend in France on their holidays!

Winter tyres are fantastic and offer an unsurpassed level of grip and feeling of security. I rarely have cause to use snow chains as very little defeats winter tyres. With their extra silicon content, the tyres retain their performance at the lowest temperatures. They are much more effective than four wheel drive in giving grip in the snow. Tyre manufacturers make all-climate tyres now that have the all important three snow mountains mark on them and yet offer excellent grip in the summer months too. They are not that much more expensive than regular tyres, so if you need to change your tyres they might be worth considering.

Priorité a droite is still a thing. Occasionally. Mostly the rules of the road in France are the same as they are in the UK. However, some junctions in the high mountains are still Priorité a droite – that is you must give way to cars joining your road from the right. As with all driving, but especially in the mountains, if you see a driver ahead on a tricky road who you could help by letting them out or giving them space, then best to do so.

Snow socks are useless (no offence) so you’ll need a set of snow chains. More importantly, practice putting them on several times so you know how to do it without thinking, because when you do, it will almost invariably be dark, in 10cm of slush, snowing and blowing hard. A head torch and gloves are a good idea too. Keep each chain in a polyethene supermarket bag-for-life – so when you take them off and stow them in your car they won’t flood the car with meltwater. Don’t forget to put them on the drive wheels of your car!

If you park your car on a road in a resort overnight, just check the local signage. Such roads are cleared by the snow plough during the night where necessary and are usually “No parking” through the night to allow the ploughs to do their work. Sometimes any miscreants are towed to the pound and sometimes just blocked in with huge piles of filthy snow. Hilarious, unless it’s your car and you have to spend hours (and I mean hours) digging it out.

There’s lots of advice from well-respected sources for driving on winter roads online. A few minutes research might pay dividends and give useful reading for the ferry or shuttle. Just remember to download it before you enter the tunnel!

Finally – enjoy it. Driving through the high mountains on a crisp sunny day is a joy, your passengers will think you're super brave, a real hero and your accumulated brownie points should last you at least until Wednesday!

Monsieur Mogul

 

Monsieur Mogul – Our man in La Plagne

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author

alone and not those of Ice and Fire Ski and Snowboard Holidays.

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