How to drive in snow — for Denver’s newcomers
An expert offers tips for wintry conditions as a storm rolls in.
Buckle up, Denver. You’re going to wake up to snow, ice and Arctic cold on Wednesday morning. And when you get behind the wheel and turn the key, it’s going to hit some of you: You’ve forgotten how to drive in the snow. Or, maybe you’ve just moved to Colorado from a warm weather state, say California, Texas, Florida or Arizona, and this is an entirely new experience.
“A lot of people when they’re driving on the roads, they think they know what they’re doing,” said Michal Michalkow, owner of First Gear Driving Academy. “But when it comes to it, they don’t.”
Michalkow worked in emergency medical services for 15 years in New York and Colorado. His company, First Gear, focuses solely on winter driving.
“I’ve seen too many people lose their lives or get hurt badly,” he said.
“They panic, they get nervous, they do the opposite of what they’re supposed to be doing,” he added. “By the opposite, they hit what they don’t want to hit.”
But the forgetful and newcomers don’t necessarily have to throw up their hands and head back inside — although if you’re feeling uncomfortable, don’t risk it and stay home.
Michalkow gave several tips for ways to stay safe when driving in the snow:
Go easy on the pedals: Michalkow said slamming on the breaks or accelerating too quickly is a recipe for losing control. If a driver needs to slow down, it’s better to lift the foot off the accelerator and allow the car to slow naturally.
Mind your speed: It may sound
self-evident, but don’t speed. Michalkow was clear that this goes for fourwheel-drive vehicles, too. Just because a car can go fast doesn’t mean it should. Faster speeds and bigger cars mean more gravity that makes it harder to stop. “The more gravity you have, the more chances you have of losing control of the vehicle and spinning out,” Michalkow said.
Give some space: No one likes a tailgater, especially when it’s snowing. Michalkow said drivers should be 3 or 3 K seconds behind the car in front, which means they can see its tires, under normal conditions. Add distance when it’s snowy and wet. AAA recommends putting 8 to 10 seconds between cars.
Forget what your parents said about driving into a skid: With modern cars, this school of thought no longer applies. Michalkow said there are three types of skids — front wheel, rear wheel and all wheel — that each use different techniques to get out of.
The best bet is to loosely hold the wheel, take the foot off the accelerator and look where you want to go, not the object you’re trying to avoid. “By staring at (what you don’t want to hit), your brain’s like, ‘Oh, Michal wants to go in that direction.'”
Michalkow compared driving a vehicle to his relationship with his wife. “If I’m rude to her, she’s going to be rude to me.” Instead, he said a person needs to pamper and be gentle with a car, especially when skidding.
Don’t panic but trust your gut: Don’t tense up and grip the wheel. But if you feel uncomfortable, trust your gut. Michalkow recommended moving to the right lane if you’re on the freeway and slowing to a speed you’re comfortable with.
Pay attention: Driving in the snow is not the time to use a cell phone, tinker with the radio, eat food or put on makeup.
Use proper tires: Michalkow did not have a recommendation on a specific tire brand. He said a tire works if it’s a winter tire with good tread. He said to check to ensure that tires are properly inflated.
Forget what your parents told you about steering into a skid. With modern cars, that technique no longer applies.