There is a magical quality to driving through southern British Columbia's Crows Nest Highway #3 on a “deep and dark December” day gazing out the windows on the endless mountains of snow and sparkling white trees. A memorable road trip but perhaps not for the faint of heart depending on the weather and road conditions. Before heading out, here are some suggestions and check lists, to make your trip safer and more enjoyable – it's all in the planning - as even an experienced winter driver can be taken unawares. There is no race, take your time and enjoy the incredible winter beauty of this province.
Three important considerations for your vehicle
- An excellent vehicle for the high mountain passes (there are 5 between Hope and Castlegar) is a four-wheel drive – our first choice a very comfortable 4 x 4 truck
- The vehicle should be well maintained and not likely to break down if you are driving in an isolated area, especially overnight. We did see one vehicle broken down and a young man walking along the heavy snow built up road in the middle of no where.
- Your vehicle should also have good quality snow tires. (All seasons are not legal between October and April). If you drive with all seasons tires you are required by law, to also have a set of chains and in certain stretches of road your vehicle must be chained up.
Considerations for the Winters Drive
- Do you plan to travel in one day (daylight hours 8 am to 4 pm) or stop overnight en route. Take the extra time if you can as in the middle of winter there is much to see and photograph. Phone ahead for accommodation availability as some motels, restaurants and tourist information centres are closed for the winter.
- In the early mornings there is usually more black ice on the roads – so perhaps start your trip later in the day if the roads are not bare
- Check the web cams along the route (see links in second article) for current conditions – these are updated regularly starting early in the morning
- Check the weather – obviously starting a road trip with a snow storm warning is not a good idea. For example, last winter Paulson Pass was closed to all vehicle traffic for four days due to heavy snow and winter conditions
- Large commercial trucks travel seven days a week on this highway but seem to be less frequent on the weekends. Due to the windy and steep road grades these rigs often slow down and traffic can back up
- Pack a lunch and thermos of tea or coffee
Common Sense Cautions
- Night driving, even if you are a very experienced “winter driver” this is not recommended if there are snow flurries as it is possible for the highway, to be reduced to two lanes with no passing and the sides of the road have snow banks and night “white out” conditions make following the road difficult. If it continues to snow this complicates driving with the reflection of the snow in the headlights reducing visibility further.
- It is also difficult to know if there has been an avalanche at night – simpler and more enjoyable to drive with good visibility in daylight hours
- Weather conditions can change drastically and quickly – dry snow is easier to drive in than deep, wet snow for example
- If there is a sudden blizzard – roads can be closed with gates which block both lanes of highway
- Speed road signs are just a suggestion and in winter it is preferable to drive slower and always look ahead
- If you drive too close to an unplowed edge of the road, the steering wheel may pull you into a ditch of snow at the side of the road. We saw 3 vehicles in ditches at the side of the road – in half an hour – probably due to black ice conditions as the temperature was hovering around zero.
- It is against the law to pass snow ploughs when they are removing snow or salting the highways. Stay well back as visibility can be limited
- Remember if you are uncomfortable driving, pull off the road – but only when safe to do so
- Remember, don't take anything for granted
Some of these suggestions seem super simple and logical. Be prepared! Often while driving on some stretches of highway there is not another vehicle in sight for miles. Having your trip well planned by considering the foregoing will make the experience truly enjoyable. And if the sun shines – it is another dimension altogether – there is a serenity and quietness that adds a new perspective. Happy and safe winter travels.
Next article includes more suggestions along with the usual Notes and Links & References