How To Prep Your Car Before Driving to a Ski Resort
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There’s something more exciting about driving to a ski resort. Driving up from the valley, hairpin bends and finally driving up into the snow line all add to the experience. But what preparations are necessary for your car before you set out?
Preparing your car for a ski trip requires maintenance and some special equipment. Ensure the car is serviced, and that all the fluids are at the correct level. Buy a set of snow tires and snow chains, and invest in a ski rack, to make the journey more comfortable.
The benefits of driving to a ski resort attract many skiers each year. With fewer luggage restrictions, no expensive transfers, and a journey you can enjoy at your own pace, driving has a lot going for it.
Arriving by plane and then transferring by bus or minivan never quite has the same appeal. However, the conditions at the ski resort are naturally going to be a lot more hostile.
Advice: Driving to the ski resort and then parking your car for the duration of your trip will put a lot of extra stress on your vehicle. Conditions at most resorts will be extreme at times, with temperatures dropping to -20 deg C/ -4 deg F. Windchill can drop these temperatures further, with snow quickly building around the vehicles.
So, preparing your car for the trip and parking safely at the resort are good investments, which will set you up better for trouble-free journeys.
Preparing your Car
- Ensure your car has had the recommended services and if not make sure it is serviced before you travel.
- Invest in a set of winter tires if you are going to be making regular trips. They are manufactured from softer rubber, which when exposed to intense cold doesn’t harden as much as normal tires, consequently giving a better grip. Winter tires also have a deeper tread pattern for improved grip and stopping.
- For UK drivers driving on the left, dipped headlight beams are angled toward the verge, so oncoming drivers are not dazzled. However, when driving on the right in European countries these left-angled beams point directly at oncoming drivers.
To temporarily modify this problem, some cars have a switchable converter, which alters the beam angle to the right, or alternatively, drivers can use a manual conversion kit. This is a simple, inexpensive adhesive patch that attaches to the outside of the headlight glass and blocks the offending beam.
It is important to ensure you have your headlights properly adjusted for the countries you are traveling through as any transgressions of the law will result in an on-the-spot fine. In many Alpine countries, it is now law to use dipped headlights 24 hours a day.
Take Snow Chains
Key Takeaway: Buy or rent snow chains. These lightweight metal chains closely wrap around the driving wheels giving the best grip on snow and ice. They are fiddly to put on, so practice several times before you set out.
The low‑mass “D” cross section of the links also contributes to longer wear because the impact of the cross members on the road surface is reduced and the surface area contacting the road is increased.
They are only attached to the driving wheels of the vehicle, which varies from car to car, and on 4X4s they can be attached to the front or rear wheels. Some advise that for uphill travel they are best attached to the front wheels and vice versa.
They should only be used on snow and ice and removed when you return to the uncovered tarmac. In Europe, carrying snow chains is compulsory in most mountainous regions in winter.
- Check your battery. If it’s more than three years old get it tested and replaced if necessary. Starting your car in sub-zero temperatures will put a lot more strain on the battery.
- Check the level of your engine oil and top up if required.
- Check the coolant level. Add a higher concentration of antifreeze if your destination is particularly cold.
- Check the condition of your wiper blades and replace them if necessary.
- Top up your screen wash with a higher concentration of screen wash fluid. Carry a spare bottle of it in the car – you’re probably going to be using it a lot.
- Check the brake, power steering, and transmission fluids. Top up if necessary.
- Give door locks and the inside rubber of door frames a light spray with some WD-40 to stop moisture from freezing them. Take a couple of aerosols of de-icer spray to clear windows and spray into locks if they get frozen.
Invest in a Ski Rack
Ski Racks and Boxes. If you have several passengers, consider investing in a ski rack or box. Skis are awkward to carry inside a car and a rack can provide a simple solution.
Even better, a ski box will carry not only your skis, poles, and boots but also plenty of luggage, leaving much more room inside the car. Ensure any rack or ski box has adequate security to protect your valuables.
Take a small or folding shovel to dig the snow away from the tires.
For most countries in the EU, it is obligatory to carry several pieces of safety equipment. These include high-visibility vests for use during breakdowns, one for each person, a plastic warning triangle, and a first-aid kit in some countries.
Tip: If when you arrive at your ski resort, you plan to leave the car parked for the duration of the vacation it is useful to use a car cover to protect it. This is an inexpensive plastic sheet, which fits snugly around the dimensions of the car.
It will stop ice from forming on the car and make it much easier at the end of the vacation to remove the cover ready for travel. Some ski resorts are better equipped than others and there may be covered parking available.
This is another additional cost, but it does mean your car will be kept dry and protected from the elements. At the end of the vacation, it is much easier to pack a car that is clear from snow and ice.
Preparations for Car Passengers
1. Put together an emergency pack if your car breaks down or gets stuck in bad weather. Store a thick blanket, bottles of water, a torch, and several high-energy snacks. Always stow the emergency pack so everyone knows where it is.
2. For trips in Europe and the US, ensure your satnav has the correct maps downloaded and that they have been recently updated with the latest corrections.
3. Check your car insurance for validity where you are traveling. If you break down during your trip breakdown cover provides a simple solution, especially useful if there is a language barrier.
4. For trips in Europe and the US ensure you take along a driver’s license for each driver, vehicle insurance, and the vehicle registration document. Also, be aware of the driving requirements in the specific countries you are visiting. For example, UK vehicles with a Euro-plate no longer need to use a GB sticker in the EU.
Are All These Arrangements Really Necessary?
Most of the advice for preparing your car is based on common sense and is consequently straightforward. The effort you must put into preparing your car has to be weighed up against the risk of what might happen if you are not prepared.
It is easiest if you prepare a checklist, listing all the preparations you need to make and tick each one as completed. Once you have used the checklist for the first time, each subsequent trip will be that much easier to organize.
When you are taking a trip to a destination where the weather is often difficult and sometimes dangerous, it is much better to travel prepared rather than leave everything to chance.