Danger! Don’t Ignore These Tips for Mountain Winter Driving

The downhill slide. Great fun if you’re a child on a sled with a clear run ahead of you. Not so thrilling if your family vehicle is headed toward the outer edge of that hillside curve. You may be a true flatlander from the sandy coast, or have grown up with several layers of lingering snow all winter. No matter–we are all in this together when a beautiful snow comes to the mountains of east Tennessee. So why does everyone here make a milk and bread run when the forecast predicts winter precipitation? And what do you do when you need to drive in it? Here are a few key tips to get you down that hill from your Gatlinburg rental cabin to safely make it to the grocery store (or restaurant if you prefer)!
Facts first. There are many that can’t understand what all the uproar is about for a little flurry. Our municipalities do not purchase mass quantities of major snow removal equipment because it is not cost effective for the infrequent and short-lived winter precipitation that we receive in our area. That said, our primary thoroughfare roads are customarily brine treated well before actually needed, so that essential services can continue to move freely. Local road crews do a really nice job at keeping those scraped and treated. Let me be clear that the road or driveway to your lodging choice is likely not considered main road essential, and will not be immediately plowed the morning after a beautiful snowfall! Hence the reason both visitors and locals alike prepare ahead of time for breakfast toast and milk for cereal (and probably something for the slowcooker also).
Even if you are snow and ice experienced, the incline factor of a hill creates an added, sometimes very harrowing, dimension to staying safe.
Essential tips for ascending and descending hills when driving conditions are slick:
—Be thoughtful where you start. If you can choose a flat spot, do so. If you must park on a hill, point your vehicle where you will pull forward when you next need to drive. Avoid backing  your vehicle uphill. Simple planning ahead, but effective.
—Be consistent. When you are driving uphill, do use the slow and steady approach, and don’t press your brakes. Regaining traction on an incline once lost is difficult, and can cause you to slide and get stuck.
—Avoid powering up. “Getting a running start” when ascending a hill is not wise, since it often ends in just spinning wheels with no traction, and then the inevitable slide. Local responders indicate this is the most frequent cause of stranded vehicles in Sevier County-too much speed.
Best tips for icy conditions:
—Drive in slow motion. Do everything more slowly: accelerating, braking, turning, and overall average speed. This is when you let the tailgater behind you go around you, if possible.
—Don’t stop completely. If you can approach a light or an intersection with a very slow roll and keep going, it’s far easier to maintain traction and momentum than a full stop (not breaking any traffic laws, of course).
—Be aware of your brakes and tires. If your vehicle has ABS brakes, learn ahead of time how to use them properly to assist you (or not). Make sure you have adequate tire tread to lend as much traction as possible.
—Consider shady areas treacherous. Even when the rest of the road may be dry, tree-lined spaces often don’t get enough sunlight to dry the road during the daytime, and may stay slick for days because of overnight refreezing. A realtor friend of mine recently hit the ditch for just this reason. My advice to him was to put down the phone and focus completely on driving.
#1 Tip for driving on winter-covered roads in our mountains:
—Stay off the road. With any steep incline, gravity always wins. It doesn’t matter what type vehicle you have or how experienced you are, it’s simple physics. Also, though you may have great driving skills, usually there are several out there with you that lack them. Don’t become someone else’s foolish collateral damage.
Fortunately, weather changes quickly here, and usually inclement conditions only last a couple of days before melting. A recent week had snow, ice, and 14 degrees on Monday, and 60 degrees high for the day on Thursday.
So plan ahead! Just relax and enjoy the fireplace, a good movie, and some down time that all of us need anyway. Please call our office here at VCR if we can answer questions about weather conditions prior to or during your stay. Our Smokies truly offer a snow-covered winter wonderland-absolutely breathtaking!

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