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Driving in the snow using chains

By georgesgenitals - 2 August 2010 15

After going for a day trip to the snow on the weekend (up past Adaminaby), I was amazed to see how many cars were attempting the mountain roads in snowy/icy conditions without chains.  There were many cars struggling to maintain traction (I saw a couple of cars slide slowly off the road).

I understand that 4WDs are exempt from using chains.

When we got to the top of the mountain, the NPWS guys were pulling over all the cars not wearing chains (it was clearly signposted that chains were required) and looked to be issuing fines.  There were 20 or 30 cars pulled over.

I had put my hired chains on at the first bay where it was signposted that chains were required.  I’m glad I did, because they worked very well.  I had never driven with chains on before, but did some basic research and no trouble at all.  In fact,  I was really surprised at just how well they worked.

Does anyone know why so many people don’t fit their chains?  There didn’t seem to be a correlation between fitting chains and number plate colours.

And on the way back down past Adaminaby, we saw 4 police vehicles going back up with lights on, an ambulance with lights on, a paramedic with lights on and two SES rescue vehicles.  Hope no-one got hurt.

Thoughts?

What’s Your opinion?


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15 Responses to
Driving in the snow using chains
deye 9:24 pm 03 Aug 10

Katietonia said :

When I lived in Scandinavia no one used chains, ever. Maybe they were just old Finns heading up to their mountain homes?

Scandinavia has snow tyres, salted roads, a lot of snow and experience in driving on snow. Australia does not.

banjo said :

Yea, I wouldn’t of thought you would of been going to Perisher or Thredbo in the conditions mentioned, snow on the road to the point where chains are required for either of these fields (especially Thredbo) is more of a freak occurrence these days although the weekend just gone might of seen a requirement?

The Perisher road requires them at least a few times each season, the Thredbo road not so much.(unless you are going past Thredbo)

On Sunday chains were required from Sawpit Creek up to Perisher.

imarty 6:27 pm 03 Aug 10

Felix, I have travelled up there regularly for over 20 years and this is the second time we were nearly caught out without chains. The first was my first time in the snow in the mid 80s.
I check several weather sources and make a call. Sunday I got it wrong.
However, after the broken chain and the situation THAT put us in I will be purchasing chains even though we’re about to buy a AWD.
Yeah palm trees ha, anything else to contribute SA?

johnboy 11:38 am 03 Aug 10

Do you know if they were putting on snow tires at the start of winter?

Katietonia 11:34 am 03 Aug 10

When I lived in Scandinavia no one used chains, ever. Maybe they were just old Finns heading up to their mountain homes?

banjo 10:44 am 03 Aug 10

georgesgenitals said :

We headed up past Selwyn. The roads were being swept clear periodically by the snow ploughs, but within minutes were snowy again. Vehicles driving along the road were crushing the snow, which was refreezing into ice. Heading up wasn’t so bad, given that we were crawling along at between 30 and 40 km/h with chains on, but coming down got a bit hairy, because although we (and the cars with us) were content to roll down at 35km/h in second gear, we were being overtaken by 4WDs going wuite a lot quicker, and had to overtake a number of vehicles without chains where the drivers were basically sliding down in short bursts.

As I said above, I was really surprised at just how effective the chains were. I felt completely safe and in control.

Yea, I wouldn’t of thought you would of been going to Perisher or Thredbo in the conditions mentioned, snow on the road to the point where chains are required for either of these fields (especially Thredbo) is more of a freak occurrence these days although the weekend just gone might of seen a requirement?

As for Selwyn, my last trip there was as a child with the family and I remember snow chains being required due to similar conditions. There was an announcement later that afternoon about a coach that had slid off the road and was now blocking the only exit route so no one was able to leave until it had been cleared. No one was hurt and it’s a fond memory I have of snowfalls that we don’t seem to get these days.

ConanOfCooma 10:31 am 03 Aug 10

I see the legacy of the “old times” persists.

Chains are not hard to put on, you do not have to get dirty doing it, and it can be quite fun in the snow.

If you are having issues putting chains on, you are either doing it wrong, or have bought/hired some old chains.

Anyone who preaches about “always having chains in winter in the high country” is understating. You need them ALL YEAR ROUND. If we can get snow in Cooma on an X-Mas day, you can get a blizzard in Kiandra/Perisher/Thredbo at any time. It’s rare, but better to have them just in case – Much quicker than taking the long way back to Canberra from Yarrangobilly via the Bingo.

Felix the Cat 4:16 am 03 Aug 10

imarty said :

And BTW, the reason we didn’t have chains was when I checked the website for weather details before leaving Canberra there was nothing about blizzards! My wife to her credit didn’t use the “I told you so card”!

You were going to snow country in the middle of winter and yet for some reason you didn’t think you would need chains…what exactly were you expecting to find up there, sandy beaches lined with Palm trees perhaps?

deye 11:33 pm 02 Aug 10

Things that live in the boot of my car:

1 set of chains (diamond pattern – much better than ladder)
1 small tarp
1 set of rubber kitchen gloves
1 high vis jacket
1 head torch
1 dolphin torch
1 small fold-up shovel

It doesn’t cost all that much, doesn’t take up much space and you have it when it’s needed unexpectedly.

You put the tarp on the snow/slush/ice and kneel on it (and lie on it when you have to look under the car). This stops you getting soaked and dirty. Use the chain case to hold down the sheet in windy conditions.

Wear the kitchen gloves, they are thin, so you can feel the chain and what it is doing, if they are long they can go over the bottom of the sleeves of your jacket. Ski gloves are unsuitable to fitting chains. You hands will still be cold, but they won’t be frozen the way they would with no gloves. They will be covered in crap by the time you are finished.

The jacket is so that the other cars can see you more clearly, especially given the conditions that usually prevail when you need to fit chains.

The head torch is so you can see what you are doing while still being able to use both hands, particularly between the wheel and the arch.

The dolphin torch is to point back in the general direction of oncoming traffic so they notice you more.

Don’t stop halfway onto the road to put on your chains or take them off like some idiots I saw on the weekend (on a corner to boot).

Try putting your chains on at home after you buy them, you don’t want the first time to be in a blizzard at night on the side of the road. Always keep an eye out at traffic going past, particularly when you are fitting/removing the road side chain. Do the other side first, this way you should be quicker when it comes to doing the road side one as you have refreshed your memory.

The shovel can be used to clear snow and ice away from the tyre when fitting the chain, and for if you get stuck (even with chains on).

When driving with chains on, leave a longer than normal distance between you and the car in front. Don’t sit in the boot. If you start to slide and they have stopped you won’t have any time to recover.

When buying a car or fitting new tyres make sure there is enough space between the wheel arch and the tyre to get your hand in there properly when fitting chains.

samson13 9:17 pm 02 Aug 10

There are a couple of reasons for not fitting chains.
1) People don’t carry them and think they can get away with it. Maybe being stingy, maybe being naive.
2) NPWS cry wolf and make people fit chains when they are not necessary too often. People don’t believe them when they say to.

A few comments/observations over the years are:
1) I now have an exempt AWD car. I still carry chains. They make many situations faster, safer and more comfortable.
2) Its almost always the 4WD car that end up in the gutter on their roof. 4WD improves forward traction so you don’t get stuck so easily, steering a bit (especialy if sliding/breaking). It also improves breaking balance making it harder to lock up a single wheel. Mostly it improves confidence past the point that is safe. They still only have breaking on 4 wheels and only steer with 2.
3) Chains do damage to tires and road if used on asphalt. NPWS have a habit of making people put them on too early or not removing signs after the conditions have improved. It only takes one trip into perisher on dry road to ruin a pair of chains which is why they are so expensive to hire.
4) Road conditions change quickly. Its not just snow that makes the road dangerous. On a nice sunny day snow melt can make the road wet. By about 4:30 the temperature drops and the wet road can turn into black ice. I’ve seen the first bit of road out of Guthega turn into a car bowling ally on a couple of occasions.
5) Driving on ice is a subtle game. Breaking and steering is a hint. Give yourself enough room to try many times. It took me four goes to stop on one stretch while driving in 1st gear low range at idle (I wanted to ask the people with the car teetering on the edge if they were OK.) I had to move pretty quickly because the next car was spiraling. I wish I’d put my chains on in the car park but it wasn’t safe to stop on that road with that much traffic.

imarty 7:46 pm 02 Aug 10

We went up too (without chains) but as it became clear the weather was closing in we turned around and went back down to Adaminaby to hire them from the BP (last servo on the right on the way out to Selwyn avoid at all costs). What a rude pr!ck the manager there is!
He was quite condescending to us when I said we were within a couple of 100 metres of the carpark when I decided we needed chains. He scoffed and said I could just drive in the tracks of another car and if I planned to fit the chains before it was really snowy he wouldn’t hire them to me. After explaining that I had used chains before and I knew when to fit them he went through all the things that would lose me my $50 deposit and that he wasn’t liable for any damage, injury etc. Fair enough but he does not have the first idea of how to speak to a customer.
So all good, we got up ok but on the way down the chain on one wheel broke. We hobbled on until we came to a steep hill which we couldn’t get up due to one wheel slipping. All the warning lights on the dash came on so I turned the car off.
Starting get a bit anxious, night was closing in and I had my wife, 4yo son and the wife’s friend and her 5yo, I waited about 10 minutes, tried again and we just made it up and out of the snow.
Upon returning the chains I told the bloke one of the chains broke and I suggested it was not in fit condition to be hired out. He looked at me blankly and said, they were ok when they left the shop and it’s not his problem. I questioned why only one would break when I used them exactly according to instructions and as I had many times before. He just said not his problem and that he wasn’t returning my money. I threw the chains on the ground and walked out.
I urge all rioters to avoid this business and certainly avoid hiring chains from them as IMO he placed us in quite serious danger by hiring out faulty equipment.

The emergency vehicles were responding to a head on between a 4wd & a snowplough blocking the road in both directions. I know this because we were stuck behind it for nearly 2 hours. It would seem the 4wd was travelling down O’Connells Ridge, came around a left hand bend a bit too fast and hit the plough. The 4wd was on the wrong side of the road.

And BTW, the reason we didn’t have chains was when I checked the website for weather details before leaving Canberra there was nothing about blizzards! My wife to her credit didn’t use the “I told you so card”!

Clown Killer 6:53 pm 02 Aug 10

I’d say most people don’t fit them because they don’t have them (didn’t bother or forgot to hire them), or they don’t want to lie in slush on the side of the road to fit them. Either way, they’re putting themselves, their passengers and other road users at risk.

From what I understand there’s two separate offences that relate to snow chains – not having them and not fitting them when directed. I’m pretty sure that it’s a requirement for all non-4WD/All-wheel-Drive vehicles to carry chains in the mountains during the winter months, and then if you don’t fit them where required (usually a sign by the side of the road, but often a NPWS/RTA/NSW Police presence actually telling people to pull over and get them fitted) that’s also an offence.

Speaking of snow, it’s shaping up to be a cracker of a weekend. Apparently they had 70cms of snow on the mountain at Thredbo and more predicted before the end of the week.

georgesgenitals 6:04 pm 02 Aug 10

banjo said :

Can you be more specific about where you were? On your way to Perisher?

I am heading to the snow this weekend and I own a vehicle that is classified as “exempt from wearing chains” but if the conditions were bad enough I would still fit them. However I don’t expect to encounter snow on the road going to Thredbo?

We headed up past Selwyn. The roads were being swept clear periodically by the snow ploughs, but within minutes were snowy again. Vehicles driving along the road were crushing the snow, which was refreezing into ice. Heading up wasn’t so bad, given that we were crawling along at between 30 and 40 km/h with chains on, but coming down got a bit hairy, because although we (and the cars with us) were content to roll down at 35km/h in second gear, we were being overtaken by 4WDs going wuite a lot quicker, and had to overtake a number of vehicles without chains where the drivers were basically sliding down in short bursts.

As I said above, I was really surprised at just how effective the chains were. I felt completely safe and in control.

p1 5:50 pm 02 Aug 10

While driving on the stretch of the road during a decent snow fall one year, I was amazed to be both forced to overtake someone in a quite capable looking large 4WD drive doing less then walking pace, and be over taken at speed by a sideways mid ’80s wagon with no chains.

In answer to you question, idiots.

banjo 5:14 pm 02 Aug 10

Can you be more specific about where you were? On your way to Perisher?

I am heading to the snow this weekend and I own a vehicle that is classified as “exempt from wearing chains” but if the conditions were bad enough I would still fit them. However I don’t expect to encounter snow on the road going to Thredbo?

Brindabella 5:04 pm 02 Aug 10

Why people don’t fit chains?

1. Can’t be bothered,
2. Price
3. Inexperience
4. Haven’t thought about the consequences of running someone off the road, or killing their family by sliding off the side of the mountain?

Either way, a nice fine from the RTA should give them a well-deserved reality check.

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