How to Drive in the Snow

By Kathleen Clove
November 14, 2022

No doubt, Utah has the Greatest Snow on Earth®. And not just in the mountains. It’s also in the valleys, on the housetops and on the roads. It’s beautiful, enchanting, fluffy — and a little intimidating if you’re not familiar with driving in the white stuff. Don’t let that deter you as you head out to enjoy wondrous winter activities. We have some tips for keeping you safe whether you’re headed to the slopes or a downtown restaurant.

1. Clear off your car

While it may seem obvious, a surprisingly large number of drivers hit the road without making sure they can actually see it. Prep your vehicle before heading out. 

  • Remove snow from the car. That includes the hood, roof and trunk. It’s not only safer for you, but also reduces the likelihood of causing a spontaneous snowstorm on the car behind you.
  • Scrape off all frost from every window. And not just a dollar-sized spot — the whole window. Leaning your head out the side is not a legitimate substitute.
  • Clear off headlights and taillights. Important if you want to see and be seen.
  • Remove snow and ice from wiper blades. Wiping slush across the windshield is a bit counterproductive, no?
  • Remove ice from wiper fluid nozzles. Ever had a truck spray a slushy dirty puddle onto your windshield? Every. Single. Storm.
  • Wipe off rear view camera lens. It’s a good idea to do this every time you hop in the car during inclement weather, because the camera is pretty useless otherwise.

2. Pay attention to the road

Don’t you already do that? Of course you take note of the vehicles around you, but do you consider the actual road surface, as well? Driving on icy and snowy roads takes some extra diligence. Snow can be slippery, especially after it becomes packed — just ask the teenager doing doughnuts in the nearest church parking lot.

Black ice is also a serious hazard, since it can form anytime there is water on the road and the temperature dips below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. If it’s cold out and you see wet spots, assume it’s ice. This is especially true on mountain roads that are shaded by tall trees, or the mountain itself. Often, you can simply adjust your course slightly to avoid the ice.

3. Don’t use cruise control

Unless conditions are completely dry, it’s best to skip the cruise control and drive manually. Cruise keeps the car going at a specific speed, so when you lose traction the vehicle may actually accelerate. Not good. When you’re pressing the gas pedal yourself, you can feel the wheels slip and quickly take your foot off the accelerator. 

If you hydroplane or lose traction, resist the urge to slam on the brakes. Instead, take your foot off the gas and shift the car into neutral. Do not downshift, as this makes the skid worse. Also, steer into the skid, which helps your wheels realign so you can get the car back under control. Because you were planning on ice fishing, not ice swimming. 

4. Allow more braking room

In your rush to get home after a long — and totally awesome — day of skiing, you may want to stay close to the vehicles crawling down to the valley ahead of you. Don’t. Give yourself plenty of room to stop — increase your following distance to three vehicle lengths or more, or about six seconds.

5. Give semitrucks space

As one of the busiest interstates for semitrucks, I-80 is bustling all year — including the snowy season. If you want your grocery store shelves filled and packages delivered on time, be especially courteous to truck drivers in the winter.

You already know it’s important to give semitrucks extra room — drivers need much more road to stop than a passenger vehicle. That distance increases when roads are slick. So even though it looks like there’s plenty of room for you to slip in front of them, there really isn’t. You’re eliminating that stopping space, giving the driver nowhere to go if they need to brake suddenly.

6. Use chains when necessary

If you’re headed up any of Utah’s canyon roads in the winter, you may see a sign indicating snow chains are required. This isn’t a suggestion. Snow can get deep quickly, and you’ll need them to stay on the road. Don’t wait until the last minute to install them, either, hoping that you won’t need them. If you see anyone stuck, it’s a good sign that the time has come. Look for the designated chain-up spaces and pull over. 

Vehicles with all-wheel drive may not need to install chains, especially if they are equipped with snow tires. Check road conditions and requirements before heading out. If conditions are severe, consider postponing the drive. The hills will still be there, we promise.

7. Drive the right vehicle

Front-wheel drive is good for driving in the snow because the heavy engine sits atop the driving wheels, giving the tires better grip when accelerating. If you’ll be encountering heavier snowfall — heading into the mountains or taking I-80 toward Wyoming — you’ll fare even better with winter tires. The same goes for an all-wheel drive vehicle, which gives power to all four wheels. If there are more than a few flurries, rear-wheel drive in the snow isn’t recommended.

8. Use the right mode

Newer vehicles have all kinds of technology to make driving safer, including “snow” mode. If your vehicle has the option, engage it. But remember, technology is not foolproof. For instance, blind spot monitoring and cross-traffic alert both rely on cameras, which may be blocked by ice or snow. Bottom line: Don’t get so wrapped up trying to spot Post Malone that you forget to focus on the road.

9. Carry an emergency kit

It takes hours to traverse the entirety of Utah, with several changes in elevation and possible weather. In addition, if you go off-road to find the best sledding spot, there’s the possibility of getting stuck in deep snow or mud. Prepare for the unexpected. A car emergency kit should include:

  • Sleeping bag or blanket
  • Jumper cables
  • Wiper fluid
  • Rock salt or kitty litter (for traction)
  • Small shovel
  • Ice scraper
  • Antifreeze
  • Snacks
  • Map of Utah, printed

Just Drive

If you’re spending time in Utah during any winter months, particularly in the higher elevations, you’ll likely meet some snow on the road. Does that mean your car will be barrelling down the road like a snowboarder on a halfpipe? Naw. Follow our winter driving tips so your activities will be the memorable adventure.