Due to our recent multiple avalanches and terrible road conditions, I just got this question for the 3rd time this week, and so it’s time to write it out for you! I have compiled some great resources, please see below. This does not constitute legal advice. I am not an attorney, driving instructor, nor insurance agent. Just a Texan who has learned the ropes in a high altitude mountain environment.
As a someone who learned to drive in Houston, I have lived in Colorado for 12+years, have taken many classes, and there have been days recently that I have no desire to get in my car. It’s not my experience that I’m worried about, it’s the tourists who do not know how to drive, and are renting cars at Denver International Airport that are not properly equipped. The other unknown factors are obviously avalanches, snow, ice, and black ice (ice you cannot see nor anticipate).
Here is a great video – watch the whole thing!:
Here are other general articles on car safety and preparedness:
Download the CDOT app on your phone and monitor our road conditions. Designate an ‘Information Officer’ in your car who loves to fiddle with their phone, and can communicate well with you. If you are alone, plan your stops accordingly to get on your phone. You should never be on your phone while behind the wheel. https://www.cotrip.org/home.
Our roads will change every 5 minutes. Lately there have been no ways out, and no ways in. This is very rare. If you see on the road conditions that it will take 3 hours to get from Denver to our area, that is actually a lot better than 4 or 6. I would rather see you take a slow trip up the mountain, then to have you sitting on the highway for too long. There are long stretches of road with no bathrooms, and it just plain sucks to be stuck in your car without a bathroom. If it is more than a 3 hour commute showing on the CDOT app or maps/Waze, etc…, I recommend just stopping for a meal and/or staying where you are overnight and trying again in the morning. https://www.cotrip.org/home.
There are NO shortcuts from Denver to Summit County. We DO NOT HAVE FEEDER ROADS like major cities. We have some side roads and windy mountain passes that would take you 4+hours, and the locals will be jamming those up as well.
It’s either I-70 from Denver, or 285 from Denver. 285 goes through Fairplay, Alma, South Park. This can be treacherous as well, especially at Hoosier Pass. However, it is an alternate route that I would suggest for experienced drivers.
Here’s my opinion on the types of drivers. They don’t all stay in “their” lane (slow, medium, fast). The types are;
- TOO FAST —they will swerve through traffic down the steep incline.
- The experienced drivers who do their best to mainstay in the middle or slow lane, and are downshifting.
- The truckers who are in the right lane (hopefully) going about 20MPH.
- The people who ride their brakes all the way down.
- I do my best to stay in the middle lane, in 3rd or 2nd gear, going the recommended speed limit of 50MPH. Yes I have an automatic transmission, and the option is there to downshift in your car.
- READ YOUR MANUAL! It will give you the features that the car can help with different road conditions. Sometimes the car will downshift for you, which is ideal. You will also need to see if you have anti-lock brakes (most cars do). If you hit the brakes hard on ice, and hear funny noises, this is GOOD. Your car is using its computer to help you from getting hurt. With the newer car features, it is no longer necessary to ‘pump’ the brakes downhill or on ice.
- If the weather and road conditions are bad, I would be going 35MPH or whatever you can without getting run over. The danger is someone running up your rear and rear-ending you, but that may never happen. Just focus on what’s in front of you.
- NEVER ride your brakes all the way down.
- BREATHE 😉 Don’t white knuckle the steering wheel!
- NEVER make sudden breaking, turning, nor acceleration on icy and snow packed roads.
- Driving in the snow and ice could sometimes be related to driving in the mud…If you get out of control into a spin, turn INTO the slide, let off the gas slowly, and don’t brake.
- If you have 4Wheel Drive or All Wheel Drive, you do not need chains if you have, at a minimum, All Wheel tires. Snow tires are the best.
- If you have front wheel drive, and are loaded down with cargo in the back (like sand bags in the back of a pick up truck, or people and luggage in a mini van), I recommend All Wheel or Snow Tires with studs, and a set of chains. Unless you are an experienced driver, then adequate tires will be sufficient.
- If you rear wheel drive, I still recommend All Wheel or Snow Tires, and you can even try studded tires.
- Chains are not necessary until you are on ice and snow. You can’t put these on your car when it’s just concrete or black top. That would ruin the car and tires. There are ‘chain up’ stations along the highways here. You would stop there to put the chains on. When buying chains, read the instructions on which wheels to place them.