A big MERCI to my guest blogger, Eve Walsh, who has kindly written the following article about winter weather driving for my blog. She is a freelance writer with a keen interest in travel writing as well as a dear love of France and French culture. It is her dream to retire to Brittany and immerse herself in French life fully.
Driving to a French Ski Resort – Safely Does It
France offers some of the best skiing in Europe and over the next few months millions of people will be taking advantage of this for their winter vacation. While a lot of people will fly in to one of the nearby airports and rely on a transfer by coach to their chosen ski resort, many more will get to the French Alps or Pyrenees under their own steam – either using their own car or hiring one. This doesn’t pose too much of a problem for those used to driving on snow – indeed many French families make the trip to the Alps each year and have become accustomed to winter driving – but for people who don’t have this experience, driving in the Alps or Pyrenees over winter can be hazardous. Although it is no substitute for experience, taking the necessary precautions before a journey on snow covered roads in France can reduce the chance of you coming into difficulties or having an accident.
While winter tyres aren’t mandatory when driving in France, it is still worth considering their use. The material used in their manufacture and their tread pattern means that they perform better in colder conditions, so they provide better grip when driving on snow, reducing the likelihood of your car skidding. Do check that when using winter tyres that their tread depth is at least 3mm to ensure that they work effectively. Although they are no guarantee that you won’t have an accident, if you are unlucky enough to be involved in one, using them will work in your favour; not doing so could shift the blame for the accident on to you. However, many French roads at higher altitudes indicate that snow chains must be used; though on some signs they advise that winter tyres are a permissible alternative. Snow chains provide traction on compacted snow and have the advantage that they are a lot cheaper than buying alternative tyres, though they can be tricky to fit the first few times that you try to do so.
In case the worst should happen and you breakdown or have an accident, ensure that you have all that you need to keep you safe and warm till help can arrive. A well charged mobile phone will be vital should you need to raise the alarm. It is compulsory to carry a warning triangle in France for use when you need to warn other drivers that your car is stationary, as is a first aid kit, which you may need to use before help can reach you. Carry extra clothing and a blanket in the car along with a hot flask and some high calorie snacks – a bar of chocolate is ideal. You never know whether it might be day or night when you get into difficulty, so always keep a torch in the car.
Before you even think about driving away, ensure that your windscreens, windows, mirrors and lights are free from snow and ice to ensure that you can see others and that they can see you; your licence plate should also be clear. It is advisable to clear any snow from the roof of your car before you set off, as when you drive this can easily fall on to your windscreen or fly off on to another car, potentially impeding visibility. If it is snowing heavily during your journey, consider stopping when it is safe to do so to remove further snow.
Driving on snow
Many people forget that stopping distances can be up to 10 times higher, so drive at a slower speed on snow. This also means that you will have to reduce your speed in plenty of time should you need to stop. The road conditions mean that harsh braking is out of the question, so instead use your gears to slow your car by moving down into a low gear before gently applying the brakes.
Stuck in snow
If you come back to your car and you find that when you try to drive off you have become stuck, don’t be tempted to rev the engine, as this will actually make the rut worse. The best approach is to gently move your car backwards and forwards using the highest gear you are able to. Should this fail, having a shovel in the car will allow you to remove the snow surrounding the wheels and help you get on your way. However, if you need help to push your car out, there are usually plenty of friendly people around in ski resorts who are more than happy to help you. Becoming stuck in a snow drift is a more serious situation, so call for breakdown assistance or the emergency services. While you wait for them in your car, don’t be tempted to run the engine, as if the exhaust is blocked with snow carbon monoxide could enter the vehicle, which could be fatal.
This forward planning will hopefully see you safely on your way to problem free driving on your ski trip. However, if you are in any doubt of your driving ability in snow, consider alternative means of transport.