Driving the Canadian Rockies in Winter

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Winter Driving in the Canadian Rockies

Banff National Park, Alberta

It is one thing watching snow vomit down from your living room as you wrap your hands around a warm mug of hot chocolate but driving in these conditions is a whole other kettle of frozen fish. This morning I made the hung-over 22km drive from Banff to Canmore. Usually this trip down the motorway should take no more than 20 minutes but the storm from the night before had left its mark. Cars crawled down the motorway apprehensive with the icy conditions. During the brief trip, there were two cars that had skidded off the road and emergency cars had just arrived where a car had flipped completely on its head. Make no mistake about it; driving around the Canadian Rockies in winter is not something to take lightly. But fear not reader, Banff Insider is here to help you through the storms.
The first and most obvious thing is to set your own speed limit. Because the sign says the limit is 90km, it doesn’t mean that this should be your exact coasting speed. Though it would be more fun, it is not a competition. Locals tend to drive about 20 or 30km below the limit when conditions are stormy. The cars you see flying by in the fast lane are generally very well used to the roads or suicidal. One slip on black ice and you could end up like the upside down car on the side of the motorway.

The fog and snow can sometimes make it hard to see the cars in front.

The fog and snow can sometimes make it hard to see the cars in front.

Winter tires are pretty much essential up here. The grip it gives you could make all the difference. Just coming to a halt at a stop sign can become a problem when the ice takes over the road. They won’t cost an arm and leg and means you can drive with much more confidence. Confidence in itself is so important as it is likely you will be tested at some stage. If you feel unsure behind the wheel in snow, find a quiet place (not a library) and go crazy. Make yourself skid on purpose so you will know what to do when it really happens. Tap the breaks on ice to see how the car reacts. It can actually be good fun just don’t go too crazy!
Of course it is dangerous to drive in snow but the other side of the scale is that it is also one of the most beautiful surrounds to travel through. The world outside your car is white, the mountains omnipresent and the sky a vivid blue. It can often feel like you are inside one of those little globes that you shake and give to your granny for Christmas. For much more information on driving the snowy Rockies, check out our winter driving section.

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