Bull­dust DEAN MEL­LOR

4 x 4 Australia - - Contents - DEAN MEL­LOR

FOR MOST Aus­tralians, driv­ing in snow and ice is a bit of a nov­elty. After all, it’s only re­ally in the Alpine re­gions of NSW and Vic­to­ria, or down in Tassie, that we oc­ca­sion­ally have the op­por­tu­nity to brush up on our win­ter­driv­ing skills.

The first time I ex­pe­ri­enced harsh win­ter con­di­tions was in South Korea in 1985. There was so much ice on the roads that my mate and I could barely walk down the street to grab a bot­tle of Soju with­out fall­ing arse-over.

Driv­ing was an al­to­gether dif­fer­ent chal­lenge, with thou­sands of cars, buses and trucks scrab­bling for trac­tion ev­ery time they turned off one of the main roads and at­tempted to tackle a frozen back street. But Kore­ans are used to harsh win­ters and their cars are equipped with stud­ded win­ter tyres that are (mostly) able to gain pur­chase on ice.

I’ve since driven in sev­eral Euro­pean and North Amer­i­can win­ters but would hardly call my­self a snow-driv­ing ex­pert, which is why I ex­hib­ited ex­treme cau­tion when the white stuff started fall­ing out of the sky on a re­cent trip down to the NSW ski fields.

On the way to the ski fields the roads of­fered plenty of trac­tion, but it was a very dif­fer­ent story on the re­turn jour­ney. There was no vis­i­ble snow on the road, but the tem­per­a­ture had dropped markedly and there was soon a dis­tinct pos­si­bil­ity of black ice form­ing.

As I rounded a gen­tle left-hand bend I no­ticed a 100 Se­ries Land Cruiser on the op­po­site shoul­der with haz­ard lights ablaze. Fur­ther around the bend, off the left side of the road, was a Ford Mon­deo in a ditch. For­tu­nately we just missed all the ac­tion – and the oc­cu­pants of the Mon­deo were only shaken, not stirred. After check­ing ev­ery­one was okay I headed down to the next bend to alert on­com­ing traf­fic of the haz­ard ahead. Ini­tially driv­ers were head­ing up the hill at a pace sug­gest­ing they were keen to go off-piste but as the snow­fall be­came heav­ier, ev­ery­one set­tled down to a more sen­si­ble crawl.

We even­tu­ally con­tin­ued on our way and saw count­less cars pulled over with their oc­cu­pants hastily fit­ting snow chains. I’ve had to do this my­self in the past and it’s not a task I rel­ish, so I was glad to have the se­cu­rity only a four-wheel drive can pro­vide in such con­di­tions, as well as de­cent tyres and a some­what ma­ture at­ti­tude.

The whole episode re­minded me of a trip to the snow when I was still in my teens. I was with a few mates and we were head­ing to Per­isher in my old Subaru. I’d proudly en­gaged four-wheel drive and gloated to my mates about not hav­ing to fit snow chains. Soon the snow was get­ting quite deep so I did pull over and fit the chains, but I was still feel­ing the con­fi­dence that only in­ex­pe­ri­ence and bravado can build.

Never one to miss the op­por­tu­nity for a piss-take, my mate Steve (aka Mo­lar) goaded me off the edge of the black­top: “Go on Deano, show us what she’s got!”

Of course, what looked like a level shoul­der was a deep ditch buried in snow, and over we went. While there was no dam­age to the Suby, my teenage pride was se­ri­ously dented. We even­tu­ally flagged down a bloke in a Land Cruiser who dragged the Suby back onto the road, and I’ve never had an in­ci­dent in snow or ice since (touch wood).

Any­way, back to my lat­est snow trip. We copped a pretty sig­nif­i­cant amount of snow overnight and it was an ef­fort to just un­lock the doors of my Navara the fol­low­ing morn­ing, let alone open them. The canopy glass was frozen to the tail­gate and I’d ne­glected to lift the wiper blades the night before, so they were frozen to the wind­screen, hid­den be­neath big chunks of ice.

After about 20 min­utes of de-ic­ing, I headed off for a play in the snow, driv­ing up fa­mil­iar tracks that couldn’t be seen for the snow that cov­ered them. I had a ball (it was my birth­day, after all) but we had to get go­ing and I knew it’d be a long, slow trip on icy roads before we’d get home back on the coast.

Sure enough, we saw a cou­ple of mi­nor in­ci­dents on the way home, but to my sur­prise most of the driv­ers we wit­nessed were sen­si­ble, cau­tious and cour­te­ous. De­spite our rel­a­tive lack of win­ter­driv­ing skills, I reckon most Aus­tralian mo­torists do a pretty good job of deal­ing with snow- and ice-cov­ered roads.

Deano’s no Ari Vata­nen. Hell, he’s not even Juha Kankkunen!

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