Monday, December 03, 2007

Snow Tires, Slideshows and Subarus

I've just spent two full days trying to drive from Whistler back home to Canmore. Road conditions have been abysmal--ice, snow, freezing rain, truly the worst roads I've seen in years. We left Whistler reasonably early yesterday after the Mountaineer's Soiree the night before (thanks to the organizers and crowd, good fun!), only to encounter crawling traffic on the Sea to Sky. No big deal, just slow, avoid the accidents waiting to happen. In Vancouver the roads were OK, just wet and a bit slushy, but by about Langley we were back to crawl mode with people orbiting off into the ditches regularly. I was feeling pretty good about the Subaru and the four new studded snow tires I'd just picked up in Portland on the way home from England and Scotland--studded snow tires seem like overkill until you're driving for hours and hours on ice and snow... Finally stopped in Kamloops after 11 hours (about a six hour drive normally) figuring that the roads would get better in the morning, and they were initially this morning. Then it was back to rut surfing and powder driving, which is a lot like powder skiing somehow. I was feeling pretty confident with the Subaru and the good tires despite the poor conditions, but you can only drive as fast as the other traffic really... After waiting for an hour outside of Revelstoke for avi control we got back at it, pounding through increasingly rutted roads. I was passing occasionally when I could see well enough, but not driving flat-out in the poor conditions. After a while I noticed a couple of white vans keeping pace with me, and eventually working up until they were behind me. Not surprisingly, I recognized the vans as belonging to the Canadian National Nordic team. Nordic teams have a long history of all-out winter driving--motivated coaches, skiers and a lot of experience on bad roads. My windshield wipers started dying, and I was passed by a white van then two. It happens. I'd been passed a few times on the drive, often by a yahoo with bad control of his vehicle. The National Team passed me with style and solidity, so right on--I'd put the Canadian Ski Team drivers up against anyone else in the world, may their athletes do as well this year!

By Golden we had been on the road for another six hours for a three-hour drive. The Trans-Can was closed over to Lake Louise, so we started toward Radium. About 1oK out of Radium we came over a hill to see green a car sideways in our lane at the bottom of the hill. The temperature gauge had been spiking, from -8C in Golden to +4C, and it had started to actually rain, all in less than 15 minutes. I had tested the traction a couple of times since Golden, and it had been good. But with the rain and rapid temperature rise the brakes did very little... It was like a skating rink with a layer of water on it. Even with the new tires and studs we barely had enough traction to slow down. The money spent on the tires suddenly seemed like a really, really good investment. Studs kick ass on any studless tire, I've tried a few and they all suck in comparison.

It was pretty clear that Mr. Green Car was going to get pasted by the next vehicle to come along, so I pulled up behind and asked the driver if he wanted a push. The camber of the road was enough to keep him from starting again, that's how slick it was. A brief push with the bumper was all it took to get him moving again. At this point my adult passenger fully lost it, she'd had enough. Fair enough, it was horrendous. It was back to Golden, where we are now. All the roads out of Golden are closed, it's raining pretty hard on the snowpack, things are going to get wild up high and on the roads tonight. We hope to make it home to Canmore tomorrow, two and a half days after leaving Whistler. This should normally be a one-day drive.

Winter driving sure is fun!


Machavok said...

Hey Will, hope you guys made it home ok. It's a flippin' soupy mess down here in cranbrook. Wholey was amazing with all the snow...for a few hours, then...nothing but rain and super cool title waves from trucks plowing through pools of water throughout town.

I love this weather. Um no.

Lawrence Van Garrett said...

Sounds like you have a little "Canadian Driving" in your blood Will. Hope you two make it home safely and Sub in one peace. It is complete glare ice here in UpState NY due to freezing rain then snow. If the snowplows would have left the streets alone and not removed the snow, things would be good but they exposed all the ice. Be well.

Garon Miskin said...

I can totally sympathize with your driving woes. I just came back from the Bozeman Ice Festival and we could only see the road during the last 1/4 of the trip due to the blowing snow. Dean Lords came a day later than us and when I talked to him on the phone, he said it was the most horrifying 2.5 hours of driving he's ever done!

Butch said...

Friends of mine left Whistler at noon on Sunday. It took 10 hours to get to Surrey (just south of Vancouver). When this happens you go to the BAR!