While caravans and campers are not allowed into high alpine parts of Australia during winter, snowfall is not uncommon in more accessible, lower-lying areas, so it pays to know how to handle the conditions if you’re hitting the road this winter.
1. USE AND CARRY SNOW CHAINS
Alpine resorts often dictate when and if snow chains must be carried but, if there is any chance you’ll encounter the white stuff on your lower altitude adventures, make sure you carry a set of snow chains for your vehicle at all times. And make sure you know how to use them!
Snow chains are designed to give you extra traction in slippery conditions so they’re worth more than their weight in gold, however, they look complicated and take some practice to get right. So don’t make the first time you ever hit snow the first time you take the chains out of the box! Follow the instructions provided, and practice in your driveway before leaving home.
HOT TIP: Carry a pair of old weather- and waterproof gloves in the car for chain fitting. They’ll keep your hands warm when you’re out in the elements, and they’ll keep the grease off.
You’ll never forget the first time your wheels hit the snow or ice – talk about heart rate going through the roof! You might slip and slide a bit as you ‘find your feet’ so to speak, but good quality offroad tyres with lots of tread will help. All-terrains will suffice but, generally speaking, the more aggressive the tread pattern, the better, in snowy situations!
HOT TIP: Just as you’d do if you were driving on soft sand, lower your tyre pressures in the snow to further improve traction.
3. STAY IN THE TRACKS
While skiers love to make ‘first tracks’ in the snow, those of us in vehicles shouldn’t be so hasty to find uncharted territory. Driving in the ruts of those who’ve gone before you is the best way to stay on course in snowy conditions, due to the snow being compacted. These hard packed vehicle tracks will assist with traction and help directional control in deeper snow by guiding your wheels.
HOT TIP: This idea of compacting snow for traction also works if you get a bit bogged. If you can’t get yourself out, back up and have another go. Each time you drive over the same spot, you’re compressing the snow and improving traction.
4. CARRY RECOVERY & EMERGENCY GEAR
Recovery and emergency gear are must-haves when travelling in these conditions. The weather can change in an instant in winter, especially at higher altitude, so you absolutely don’t want to get caught short.
At a minimum, a long-handled shovel and a set of Maxtrax are required. These will help get you out of many difficult situations. As far as emergency supplies go, make sure you’ve got plenty of warm, dry clothing, water, food and blankets for at least a few days.
HOT TIP: Also consider travelling in convoy and carrying other recovery equipment such as winches, ropes, a sat-phones, radios and a personal locator beacon etc.
5. CHECK YOUR FUEL
High altitudes and low temperatures can wreak havoc with diesel vehicles. The fuel changes consistency at very low temps and will lead to your car not starting.
Many alpine areas sell ‘alpine diesel’ which can work for temperatures down to about -3 degrees – just make sure your tank is empty, or close to empty, when you fill up, or it will lose its effectiveness.
Another option is to add a special winter fuel additive to your tank of regular diesel. These are available from most service stations.
HOT TIP: If you’re camping out overnight, park out of the wind and snow if possible, and throw a blanket over your vehicle’s engine!
MEET THE AUTHOR
An RV journalist working across Australia’s premier caravanning and camping magazines for the past five years, Laura is also a judge at the annual Best Aussie Vans awards. She has been camping in the great outdoors since the of two, when she was packed, by day, into a Toyota LiteAce van and, by night, into a brown canvas tent with her parents and two siblings for an extended trip around the vast playground that is northern Western Australia.
PICS by Matt Fehlberg & Robert Norman