This continues the series on winter photography. In order to get through it before the official start of winter (December 21st), I’m going to begin to post more frequently than just on Friday. That’s just for this series though. We’re still on safety, and despite well-publicized incidents of people getting stranded and dying of exposure, in wintertime 90% of the danger lies on the roadways.
Car & Tires
In the last post on winter driving I did not discuss types of cars, chains, etc. That’s because I believe these come in a distant second to good winter driving technique. Sure, having a good winter vehicle can reduce the dreaded white-knuckle syndrome. But never make the mistake of thinking a 4×4 or traction devices allow you to go faster or otherwise drive as if the roads were clear and dry. I think we’ve all seen more SUVs rolled over on snowy shoulders than we have cars.
- Four-Wheel Drive: I think most photographers would rather spend extra money on that shiny new camera or lens than a new SUV or Subaru. So does it really make sense to buy a special vehicle plus traction equipment for winter driving? Obviously the more snow you drive in the more sense it makes to outfit yourself with permanent traction aids. And a 4×4 is a large, rolling traction aid. Most 4x4s have good clearance, which helps on unplowed side-roads, and sometimes even the driveway!
- Non-4wd Snow Cars: A good alternative to the 4×4 SUV or truck is an all-wheel drive car. These work great in snow and come in handy when it’s rainy out too. Small front-wheel drive cars do amazingly well in snow as long as it’s not too deep. If you tend to frequent unplowed roads, in deeper snow, front-wheel drive and (most) AWD cars have too little clearance. Pair either the AWD or FWD car with traction tires, of the snow variety if you’re frequently in the white stuff.
- Chains: I recommend just keeping a set of chains in your vehicle. For one thing, chains have helped me get out of mud in situations where a tow would have been extremely expensive. If you drive in snow or ice only occasionally, chains are enough; a 4×4 isn’t necessary. Do yourself a favor and practice with them in a dry driveway. You’ll be lying down, so a small tarp will keep snow and slush off your clothes.
- Tires: Even it’s snowy where you live you may not need a 4×4. If sharp curves and (especially) hills are in short supply, you can get away with good snow tires and (as a backup) chains. Going with an extra set of snow tires for winter makes sense, especially where winters last half the year or more.
- Studs: I only had these in Alaska, and then only because I couldn’t afford a 4×4. Now I’m anti-stud! They tear up the roadways and ultimately force gas taxes to rise. Go with traction tires and chains instead. People think they need studs because of ice.
On short stretches of ice, you can get through by slowing greatly and practicing good technique as described in the last post. In more widespread icy conditions, hills or not, chain up and go slow! The only time studs are appropriate is in extreme winter conditions where roads are snow- and ice-covered continuously, and you rarely if ever drive on pavement. Then a 4×4 with studs all around is the way to go. But this is very rare indeed.