Dec 1, 2001 | Marmot, Winter 2001

The Road May Be Paved From The Top To Bottom… by Julia Perrie

But don’t Let A Lack of Road Safety Common Sense Ruin Your Ski Getaway

Okay, so you have everything ready for your holiday. You’ve got warm clothing, the correct equipment (including that all-important helmet), food and all your friends packed into the car. You’re ready to zoom up the mountain for a weekend of fun and frolic, right? Maybe not…

That early December evening in Courtenay had been unseasonably warm. Constant drizzle slapped against the window as the family made their way back up the mountain after enjoying a quick trip to town. They were enjoying the journey by singing along with the Disney CD that was always handy in the Blazer. There was nothing like Jungle Book’s, “The Elephant March” to entertain the kids.

Half way to the top the rain changed into slushy snow and the truck slowed in cautious response to the slick road surface. The Elephant March gave way to silence. It was important to concentrate on the road.

In another few miles the slush turned to thick snow that clung to the wipers and trailed along behind every swipe. The glass in front of the driver was a coagulation of melting snow framed by a thick, white arch.

Time to switch to four-wheel-drive.

At the dip before Ramparts Creek, a lone vehicle sat nestled in the parallel, uphill grooves of snow. The small pickup’s engine was running and the headlights were on, but it wasn’t moving. Inside, a young woman sat alone, frustrated and afraid. Too far from the mountain village to walk up for help, too far from town to head down and unable to turn around in the deep, slippery ruts she couldn’t have telephoned for help even if she’d had a portable phone, because cellular coverage at Ramparts Creek is non-existent.

“Are you okay?” The family called from their Blazer as they pulled up beside her.

“Yes!” Came her clipped, response. She was frustrated. But something didn’t seem right, “Are you sure?” They persisted. The woman nodded and then sighed, “No,” her voice was a plea, “I need help. I’m stuck.”

The mother hopped out of the passenger side of the Blazer and into the driver’s seat of the young woman’s truck. With perserverance, skill and an hour worth of words not worth printing, she managed to maneauver the truck up the steep hill to the mouth of the Sunrise Quad parking lot. There she parked it safely and left it. Then the family transported the young woman to her destination.

You might ask what that young woman was doing on a mountain road, in the dark of night, in a small pickup truck with no ballast in the back and half bald tires? Well, her boyfriend had asked her to bring his truck up the mountain. He was snowboarding with his buddies and she planned to meet him. If it hadn’t been for the family that chanced upon her, she might not have arrived alive at her destination.

The moral of this story is that it is wise to check your vehicle for winter readiness before you leave home. Here are some simple tips that could make all the difference:

  1. If your car needs a tune-up or will be due for one soon, get it done now! The last thing you want to hear is, Clink, clunk, hisssss as the engine dies in the middle of a single-lane, mountain road while 47 cars filled with oversized and overeager snowboarders are lined up behind you.
  2. Make sure your battery and charging system are up to snuff. Otherwise your CD player won’t work if you get stuck. Of course, your car might not start at all after your excellent ski weekend and you’d be forced to stay an extra day or two while waiting for the new battery to be delivered.
  3. Check your cooling system. If there are any leaks, get them fixed now. That little shot of steam you saw in town could turn into a dangerous icy, jousting spike by the time you hit the snow-zone. Also, the mountain does not keep spare radiators in stock for those that split due to lack of proper coolant. Come to think of it, it could take a few days for a new one to be delivered. A few more gloriously, sunny, excellent ski days…
  4. Make sure your windshield wipers are in good shape. You could always forgo this one if you don’t mind hanging out the side window in order to see while you drive. It’s great fun in the rain! There is nothing so attractive as a face, pock marked by stinging hail.
  5. Keep your gas tank close to full. Unless you plan to invent a new sport called “Coasting All The Way Down the Mountain on Fumes”.
    Did you know that condensation in your gas tank, can freeze? It causes rust too!
  6. Make sure your windshield wiper reservoir is full. Snow is not like rain, it does not act like a car wash. Muck from the road collects in snow and can build up on your windshield like the Great Wall of China. Unless you’re Superman and have X-ray vision, you’ll have to rely on good old-fashioned window-wash in order to see.
  7. If your vehicle has rear wheel drive, carry ballast. Sandbags, bricks, logs, kitty litter, rolled up carpets, mother-in-law, daughter’s nasty boyfriend, (they’d have to be inside the rolled up carpet), anything that adds weight to your rear end is food, I mean, good.
  8. Make sure your rear window defroster works. Unless you don’t care who might be pulling out to pass you. If you’re very unlucky, it will be the snowplow and you’ll be buried until spring!
  9. Know your car. Not just it’s first name. Get to know what sounds right when it’s working well and what little noises are new and suspicious. Like most women, cars make funny noises when something is amiss.
  10. Make sure you have basic supplies in your truck in case you get stuck. Blankets, candles, crackers, brie, anything that will turn a disaster into a cozy romantic interlude.
  11. Always carry kitty litter. It acts as ballast and scattered in front of your tires, works well for traction. Obviously I am not referring to the clumping kind.
  12. Make sure your cellular phone is fully charged. Your friends in town might appreciate being apprised of blizzard conditions so they can postpone their departure for a few hours. Not to mention how happy you will be to connect with BCAA when you need a tow out of a snow bank.
  13. Keep chains for your tires in your trunk. Not whips, chains. Trust me, there’s a big difference.
  14. If your car is covered with snow, clean off the ENTIRE vehicle before driving. A little peephole in the windshield is not good enough. Have you ever driven behind some yahoo who didn’t clean off his car and been blasted with the mini blizzard that whips off his roof? That’s an accident waiting for a place to happen.
  15. If you are going to be parked for a few days, mark your vehicle with something tall that you will be able to locate after an eight-foot dump of snow. There is nothing quite so heartwarming as spending three hours digging out your vehicle only to discover that you’ve dug out the wrong car!
  16. When driving in the snow, do everything slowly. That includes swearing at the guy in front of you who just might be going slow enough to save your life.

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