Adventures in snow driving

posted by Jeff | Monday, December 20, 2004, 12:09 AM | comments: 6

If you don't live in Northeast Ohio, Buffalo, or perhaps Western Michigan, you may not be familiar with lake effect snow. The short explanation is that wind blows over the unfrozen lake, picks up moisture, then dumps that shit on you as snow. It generally dumps the snow starting at the shore or a couple of miles inland, then it peters out 30 to 40 miles in. If you checked the radar here, right now, you'd see white bands that extend from the lake to that inland point, and nothing to the south.

More to the point, we can get slammed here while Columbus doesn't see a thing.

So I went to practice this morning. I'm about 20 miles inland, our practice site is about two. The closer I got to the lake, the better, but what a mess. Surprisingly enough, even the SUV jerks that think they're invincible were driving responsibly.

I wouldn't say it's really hard to drive in snow, exactly. I think you have to know the limits of your abilities and you car, and understand the physics of it. Slamming on your brakes is bad, and those are the idiots that end up in the median. Point the wheels where you want to go and apply appropriate acceleration. Know that at a certain speed, even with four-wheel drive, you cease to be able to control the car.

The thing that really surprised me, because I only had serious snow once after I got the car in March, was anti-lock braking. On city streets, like when I get off the freeway, I like to do a brief brake tap to see how much I'll slide. Well, ABS doesn't allow that, so instead it makes a horrible noise, vibrates the hell out of the car, and pulses the brakes. That's a good idea I suppose, because you can't steer if you're sliding, but I'm not entirely sure I like giving up that control. It doesn't feel natural.

I have to admit that I'm a little fascinated by snow driving. In college, my best man Frank actually took a course on it, so I learned a lot of interesting things from him. Also, my dad used to rally race, and he took Frank and I up to a frozen lake in Michigan once. Surprisingly, a lot of the video games get the slide-n-drive physics right (except that if you plant the car in a snow bank, you're not just going to back out and continue).

I haven't had a big enough parking lot in years to try a 360 spin, but it's one of the most satisfying things you can do in your street car without destroying it.



December 20, 2004, 5:20 AM #

I haven't done a whole lot of snow driving thus far, but I will tomorrow if school isn't canceled. Frankly, if you can keep your speed down and not have to suddenly stop, you should be all set. The problem comes when others put you into a situation where you need to stop quickly.


December 20, 2004, 5:40 AM #

I think everyone should be required to read that third paragraph before receiving a driver's license. Honestly, I'm not the least bit afraid of driving in the snow. The only reason I hesitate is because of the added time it takes to travel.

A few years ago my friend was doing 360s in the school parking lot and ended up slamming his car into a tree, causing him to need to buy a new door. Funniest part was that he had an old ass beige Monte Carlo and the only door he could find was navy blue, so he drove around with a multi-colored car for the remaining time he owned it.

I'm quite fascinated with snow driving myself, I'd love to get a chance to pull a few stunts. :)


December 20, 2004, 3:56 PM #

Gordon took Ian to a snow covered parking lot and had him practice with 360's, braking, excellerating, etc. when he was a new driver.

I do the same thing when I have a new car I'm unfamiliar with, but considering I've had mostly Saturns for the past 10 years, I'm pretty comfortable with the way they handle in snow.

The ABS took quite some time to get used to, but I did find it cut down on spinning.


December 20, 2004, 5:00 PM #

I agree on the ABS. It took a little getting used to, now I LOVE it.

I LOVE driving in the snow as long as I have the road to myself. Sure, it takes longer to get where I'm going, but it's fun to slide around (carefully) in the process. My Honda Civic handles it quite well, too.


December 20, 2004, 7:09 PM #

I've unintentionally spun the car twice in snowy weather two years ago. One was about a 270° in the neighborhood at a three-way intersection. The second was on a four lane street. That time it was early so traffic was light and the car only went about 180°. Both times during the spin, all I could think about was "OH SHIT! Please don't run into something." Afterwards it was "Let's do that again." :)


December 24, 2004, 8:36 AM #

One time My brother and I were headed to school after a two hour delay and we were coming upon a stop soon so he tapped the brakes to try to bleed some speed. We were at the top of a small hill and the car immediately started to spin. We ended up doing a 540 and ended up in the ditch. It was pretty surreal while it happened, but I thought it was pretty fun afterwards. Luckily, we didn't hit anything, and there was not damage to the car. But we did have to get helped out of the ditch by some heavy duty trucks.

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