Driving in a Snowstorm in Finland MN

When the snow is a foot deep on the highway, you can drive in any lane you want.

Winter

Sometimes you have to dig a lot to get the car out. When the snow is axle-deep to a ferris wheel, it’s best not to go anywhere. Photo by Kurt Mead

There’s a certain bizarre logic to how it all works.

Drive slow. You can’t really drive fast when there’s that much snow. But not too slow. You’ve got to keep up a certain momentum.

Stay toward the middle of the road, not the edges. You don’t want to fall off the edge. Then you’re stuck. You won’t really be hurt, because the snow is soft, but being stuck is no fun. Technically Triple-A is a thing here, if you have cell service, but it might take all day for them to arrive.

If there are no tracks, you are on your own. This is fun. Make some new tracks. In the middle. Yup, stay in the middle.

If your vehicle gets a little squirrely, you know that the next person to come along will see your squirrelly tracks and be forced to follow them somewhat. If you keep your head on straight and don’t overcorrect, you can keep a little squirreliness from becoming an out-and-out fishtail, and then you can be proud of how well you handled yourself as you keep on your merry way.

If you are on a good straight stretch with no obvious obstacles, you can increase your speed, shooting snow up around and behind your vehicle like crystalline white wings. It’s a feeling designed to make you feel like a shooting star. A shooting star going maybe 40 mph. Wheee!

If there are tracks already, it helps to follow them. Except in the places where they got a little squirrelly. Following existing tracks gives a certain degree of stability to the situation, and you can go a bit faster.

If the existing tracks are in the middle of the road, as they ought to be, sometimes you must wonder if they were going the same direction as you, or the opposite direction. It can be hard to tell, since you are both driving in the middle of the road. Sometimes you can tell for a moment, because they had to veer back into their own lane for some reason.

Often we use the “inside tires on the invisible centerline” technique, so we’re not entirely in the real middle of the road, just kind of. In the case where you are following tracks that were coming in the opposite direction, the acceptable protocol is to ride your “inside tires on the invisible centerline” and thus follow their inside track, while making your own outside track. This creates a snowy road with two outside tracks, and one, shared, inside track. If by chance you meet another vehicle, you have to veer out of that inside track and further onto your own side of the road. If it’s packed down enough, or the snow is really deep, this can be a little difficult. The upshot of screwing this up too badly is that hopefully the oncoming vehicle will stop and help you out.

If you have to stop, and the snow is deep enough that you aren’t sure you can get going again, fer chrissakes, don’t stop on an uphill slope. Remember your momentum. And also remember not to fall off the edge of the road if you are really bothering with pulling over. With a little strategy and care, you can stop, clean off your wipers or headlights, take a pee, and let gravity pull you down the hill and regain your momentum and your beautiful wings of white.

For beginners, it is reasonable to practice your vehicle handling techniques on a broad open space, like a parking lot, or a lake with at least a foot of ice and six inches or more of snow. Practice spinning, practice fishtailing. When there’s nothing to crash into, you have taken the fear away, and you can learn to pirouette your car through the snow. There’s a reason local boys whip shitties every chance they get; it’s fun as hell.

Driving in a foot of snow successfully is a powerful feeling. It is an art form. One that more people should appreciate.

One more thing. If you are on a one-lane road and meet an oncoming logging truck, just drive off the road. If you force the logger off the road, he will be angry. And you don’t need an angry logger in your life. If you drive off the road, the logger will pull you out after he gets by you. Loggers are pretty handy. They always have chains and tow ropes and lots more horsepower than you do.

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