Driving in Snow in Lake Tahoe
It was a dark and snowy night. The high school parking lot was deserted except for a 1976 Ford Granada turning doughnut after doughnut to Pearl Jam’s Ten. It was the first real snow of the season, and as a new driver, Mom and Dad wanted me to learn how to recover if I lost control on an icy road. It was scary at first, but I’ve been grateful ever since that I eventually got the hang of it.
Winter driving is like most of the stuff we do – with practice, patience, and common sense, you can do it! Here are a few things you can do to get up to your favorite mountain safely:
- Sunday Departure Tips
- Check road conditions before you leave home.
- Drive slowly, and avoid sudden actions like braking, acceleration, or turns.
- Give plenty of following distance.
- Be mindful of other drivers on the road – especially at intersections.
- Carry chains – and know which tires they go on. And how to put them on.
- Remember, a “4 wheel drive” vehicle does not have “4 wheel stop.”
- More winter driving tips from Caltrans
- Before driving, check weather and road conditions by dialing 511 within Nevada (or 1-877-NV-ROADS outside of Nevada) or logging on to www.nvroads.com.
- Weathering the storm brochure PDF
- Winter Driving Tips video
- Only travel in winter weather when necessary, leave enough time to safely reach your destination and plan your route to help avoid snowy/icy areas and steep hills.
- Share your travel itinerary so others know when to expect you.
- Remove snow and ice from all vehicle windows, mirrors, lights, turn signals and license plates.
- Buckle up.
- Turn on headlights to see and be seen.
- Do not rely solely on GPS to find alternate routes, as it could lead to unmaintained roadways or hazardous areas.
- Turn off cruise control.
- Avoid quick starts, stops and fast turns. Accelerate, brake and steer smoothly and gradually.
- Reduce speed. Speed limits are based on normal road and weather conditions, not winter road conditions.
- Do not slam on brakes. Apply steady pressure on ABS-equipped (antilock braking system) vehicles and pump the brakes if necessary on non-ABS vehicles.
- Always comply with all posted traction device requirements.
- If your vehicle has snow tires, install and use them between October 1 and April 30.
- Keep additional distance from other vehicles.
- Watch carefully for snow removal equipment.
- Do not pass without good distance and sight clearance.
- Use extra caution on bridges, ramps, overpasses, and shaded areas- they may freeze first.
- Maintain a high fuel level.
- If the vehicle begins to skid, steer in direction of slide and slowly remove foot from the accelerator.
- Be aware of black ice.
- If parked or stuck in the snow, leave a window slightly cracked for ventilation and make sure the vehicle exhaust system is clear of snow.
Check before you go:
- Tires / tread
- Belts / hoses
- Exhaust / fuel / ignition system
- Heater / defroster
- Vehicle fluid levels –(anti-freeze oil, windshield, brake fluid, etc.)
- Full gasoline tank
- Use caution when following, passing or approaching snow removal equipment.
- Drive a safe distance behind snowplows. Plows often travel slower than other vehicles to remove snow, apply sand and liquid anti-icers and assist stranded vehicles.
- Before attempting to pass snow removal equipment, check direction of snow discharge to avoid snow and debris thrown from equipment. Remember that plows are wider than most vehicles and portions of the plow and blade may be obscured by blowing snow.
- Don’t crowd the plow. Only pass snow removal vehicles when a safe, legal passing area is available and adequately clear of snow and/or treated with salt and sand.
- Don’t travel beside a snowplow. They can shift sideways after hitting snow packs or drifts. Plows also are not able to automatically stop sanding when other vehicles pass. Therefore, sand may unintentionally hit vehicles if not driven a proper distance from snow removal equipment.
- When a plow approaches you, allow the plow room to operate by reducing speed and moving to the right side of the road if there is room to safely do so.
- Do not brake with unnecessary sudden movements when in front of a snowplow – plows cannot stop as quickly as an automobile.
- Don’t drive through white out conditions caused by swirling snow around a snowplow. Safely pull to the side or slow to allow visibility to improve.
- Remember that a snowplow operator’s field of vision is restricted. You may see them, but they may not see you.
The advantage in a mountain town is that we know how to clear snow from the roads. While a few inches can immobilize a coastal community, here at Lake Tahoe, we bring out the heavy equipment. Snow removal vehicles work around the clock to keep the roads clear and safe for travel. Keep in mind, the main roads will be cleared first, then the secondary roads and neighborhoods.
For the latest road conditions:
- Caltrans has current California road conditions online or at 1-800-427-ROAD (7623) or 916-445-7623.
- For road conditions in Nevada contact the Nevada Department of Transportation at 877-687-6237.
- Travelers can also get up-to-the-minute road information on their smartphones.
For the most up-to-date information on snowfall, mountain base depths and road conditions in South Lake Tahoe, check area ski resort websites and cams or call snow phones:
- Heavenly Web Cams – 775-586-7000
- Sierra-at-Tahoe Web Cams – 530-659-7475
- Kirkwood Web Cams – 209-258-3000
- Heavenly Village Web Cams
- Lake Tahoe Web Cams
And, if despite your best efforts, you do find yourself in a slide, let off your brakes. Your ABS could lock up your wheels. Turn your wheels in the direction that the rear of your car is sliding. Remember to breathe.
Be safe, and have fun this winter!