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6 Dec 2022
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Driving in the snow is an essential skill for anyone visiting a winter wonderland like Mammoth Lakes. And if you’ve seen pictures of our town taken during the last week, you’ll know that we’re all putting our snow driving abilities to the test! 

In this article, we’ll cover the top 8 tips for safely navigating the roads after a storm. That way, you can focus on what’s really important: enjoying this beautiful fresh snow!

#1: Find out what your car can do

The truth is, there’s no universal way to drive in the snow. Different cars will handle differently depending on whether they’re 2-wheel drive (front or rear), all-wheel drive, or 4-wheel drive:

  • Rear wheel drive versus front wheel drive. RWD cars are generally considered less reliable in snow conditions. This is because they tend to lose control of the rear of the car more easily than FWD cars. So, if you are driving a RWD car in Mammoth, take extra precaution. 

  • All wheel drive. AWD cars are reliable in light to medium snow conditions. With an adaptable system that sends power to the wheels with better traction in real time, these cars will give you more control when driving in the snow in Mammoth. That being said, you will still have less control when braking and turning than you’re used to in other settings.

  • 4WD or 4X4. 4WD is the gold standard for snow driving as power is directed to all wheels when this feature is engaged. 4WD cars also typically include a low range setting that can help in very difficult snow conditions. Of course, even though 4x4 cars will give you the most control during heavy snow, there’s still a lot of skill and experience needed to properly drive a car in these conditions. In other words, 4WD cars are great, but they’re not invincible.

No matter what kind of car you’re driving, you may still need to put chains or cables on your car depending on the local chain control regulations. While this can be an extra hassle and expense, it’s a lot cheaper and more convenient than getting caught in a car pile-up!

#2: Clear the snow and ice from your car before getting behind the wheel

Throughout winter in Mammoth, you’re bound to see plenty of cars driving around with a couple feet of snow on top of their car. This is a bad idea. That fun snow hat can dislodge and slide onto your windshield or in the path of another car.

Before you drive, take your time in defrosting your windows and removing all snow on the roof and hood of your car.

#3: Drive slowly on the downhills

Here in Mammoth, we’re used to driving at a slower pace than many of our city guests. But whenever it snows, that’s when you’ll really see us slow down. Driving slowly allows your 

Drive smoothly, without slamming on the brakes, especially when traveling downhill.

#4: Don’t lose speed on the uphills

Hills are the trickiest part of driving in the snow, and that can make driving in Mammoth a challenge. But, hey. Without them, we wouldn’t have our amazing ski slopes, so we’ve got to learn how to navigate them safely. Here’s how:

  • Know your car’s limits. If a hill looks too steep for your car to handle or you can see other cars struggling to make it up, find another route. You’ll be better off driving out of your way than getting stuck.

  • Let your momentum carry you up the hill. If you do think your car can make it up the hill, use inertia to your advantage. Accelerate lightly before you get to the hill and then allow that forward momentum to carry you up.

  • Avoid slamming on the gas pedal. One mistake that is common with first time snow drivers is thinking that you can power your way up the incline. Sure, this sometimes works. But, often the outcome is a spinout that ends up in loss of traction completely.

  • Whatever you do, don’t stop. Stopping on the uphill will mean that you’re at risk for sliding backwards or getting stuck where you are. So, if you can help it, don’t stop moving while you’re on the uphill. If you do have to stop, move over to the side of the road or onto a sidestreet. 

#5: Heed your traction control system

When driving in the snow, you might notice your traction control system or stability-control system light engage. This means that your wheels are struggling to find traction and that you need to slow down.

#6: Break like a pro

When we say break like a pro, what we really mean is brake as little as possible. In snowy conditions, sharp braking can actually decrease your ability to control the car, especially if you’ve hit a slippery patch. Instead, you’ll want to slow down naturally and even use engine braking to keep your speed low enough to maintain control. You can also try gently braking to see whether your car has enough traction to stop.

In the case that you do need to brake quickly, chances are, your car will help you with anti-lock brakes. When these are engaged, you’ll want to keep your foot on the brake until your car has come to a complete stop. It’s common to feel a vibration in the brakes that let you know they’re working. In the meantime, don’t stop steering.

#7: Know what to do if you lose control

Even the most experienced drivers in the snow lose control sometimes. But, by knowing how to react, they can regain traction as soon as possible. Here’s what to do when you start to feel the wheels slide:

  • Ease off the gas. 

  • If your front tires are slipping, turn the car in the direction you want to go. As soon as your car moves beyond the slippery patch, your tires will gain traction and move you in the direction you want to go.

  • If your rear tires are slipping, turn the car into the direction of the slide. This one is fairly counterintuitive, but if your back wheels lose control, you’ll actually want to turn into the direction of where your car is sliding. This will naturally pull the tail end of the car back into alignment with your front tires so that you can regain control. 

#8: One of the safest options of all: leave it to the pros

As we covered in our last blog piece, Mammoth has an amazing public transit system. By relying on the town shuttles, you can help to keep the roads clear while keeping yourself and your car safe.

Driving in the snow takes practice, but your safety is a main priority!

The more opportunities you get to drive in the snow, the more comfortable you’ll feel navigating these tricky road conditions. That being said, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and stay inside or rely on public transportation when possible. After all, we want you to have a fantastic time in the snow in Mammoth—not digging your car out of a snowbank!

Planning a winter vacation? Check out our Mammoth Resorts to find the perfect stay.