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Top Tips For Winter Driving In Winter Park, Colorado
With an average annual snowfall of 350 inches, navigating the twists and turns of our mountain roads in the Winter Park area can be a bit of an adventure to the uninitiated.
To help you have a safe and stress free driving experience, we’ve answered a few of the most commonly asked questions about winter driving, and even added a few bonus items for good measure.
Can I bring my two-wheel drive car?
Ultimately this is your decision, but when asked, we always recommend a four-wheel drive vehicle as the safest option during the winter months. Some local people do drive two-wheel drive vehicles, and swear that they get along just fine…but read the fine print and you will find that most use studded snow tires to help with traction, and if it’s a big snow day, many will delay a trip over Berthoud Pass until the road conditions have improved.
If you do decide to go with a two-wheel drive vehicle, give yourself an advantage by making sure that your snow tires are in top condition with good tread. Purchase a set of snow chains before your trip to keep in the trunk, if you don’t need them you can always return them to the store, but at least they are there if you do.
If you would rather rent a four-wheel drive vehicle for your trip, check out the many options available at Denver International Airport and pay particular attention to the condition of the tires when you pick up the vehicle.
How is Berthoud Pass to drive over?
Berthoud Pass has gone through some major improvements in recent years, and has become a much more enjoyable drive than in years past. There are still many twists and turns to navigate, but most sections of the road have been extended to two lanes on uphill directions, and the addition of roadside reflectors and flashing corner signs have become a welcome improvement for unfamiliar drivers at night.
There are many pull outs along the side of the highway, which can be used to stop and take in the scenery, or to let faster drivers safely move past you. During daylight hours you will see a lot of backcountry skiers hanging out or hitch hiking from some of these pull-outs, don’t be alarmed, that’s just a part of the local recreation around here. Here’s a little snippet of video I found on YouTube of a jeep driving over Berthoud Pass after a recent snow storm.
I heard that CDOT causes avalanches on Berthoud Pass on purpose, what’s that all about?
The Colorado Department of Transportation will often trigger snow slides on key areas of Berthoud Pass after large snowfalls, high winds, or if the snow conditions in the high country are simply deemed unstable, to avoid the snow from self-releasing onto the highway. Any time that CDOT needs to carry out avalanche mitigation work, they will close the road over the pass, allowing themselves a clear path to activate a slide and then clear the road of any snow.
To stay up to date on road conditions or closures, we highly recommend that you check cotrip.org or call 511 from your phone before heading up to the high country. For specifics on Berthoud Pass, look for US 40: I-70 – Winter Park (Berthoud Pass).
Do the roads get plowed regularly?
Yes, our local road crew do a wonderful job of keeping the roads plowed and gritted during the winter months. There are times however, during heavy snow storms, that snow build up might happen in between plows, so be prepared to deal with some snowy driving conditions on these days…and consider taking the free bus shuttle to Winter Park to get to all that powder without the hassle of driving.
I’m flying into DIA, what are my options for 4WD car rentals?
There are many car rental agencies located at DIA that offer both two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive vehicles. During normal business hours, you will find representation at the main arrivals area to direct you to the correct rental car lot.
Alternatively, if you would rather let someone else do the driving, guests of Winter Park Lodging Company are privy to discounted rate on airport shuttles to Winter Park with Home James Transportation.
WPLCO’s Top 5 Tips For Winter Driving
- Be aware of the weather forecast and driving conditions before you head into the high country. We like Wunderground for local weather forecasts and CoTrip.org for road conditions .
- Practice full visibility for you and others. Use a brush and scraper to clear ALL the snow off of your vehicle (no peeking through a tiny hole in windshield), get your blowers going to avoid steaming up, turn on your lights in snow storms or foggy areas.
- Take it easy. Accelerate and decelerate slowly on snowy or icy roads. Be prepared to slow down or make maneuver well in advance, and give yourself plenty of space between your vehicle and the one in front. If someone is crowding you from behind, don’t panic, just use a pull off to let them pass you safely.
- Check your car’s vitals. Give your car the once over before heading to the mountains, paying particular attention to your tire tread and pressure, breaks fluid levels, windscreen wipers & wash. It’s also a good idea to throw in some snacks, water and a blanket, just in case you run into any unexpected delays on the journey.
- Give snowplows plenty of space. Snow plows kick up a ton of snow and grit as they clear the roads, which greatly reduces visibility around them. Keep a safe distance behind them to stay out of ‘the cloud’, and if you do pass them be aware of the wing blade, which is a plow extension that can stick out 10-12 feet to the side of the vehicle, and remember that the reason the plow is on the road it to clear snow…there’s a good chance that you may run into deeper snow pack on the road ahead.
For more good driving practices in the snow, CLICK HERE.
If driving in snowy conditions just doesn’t sound like fun to you, don’t sweat it. Winter Park has a wonderful, free bus service that services most neighborhoods in Fraser, Downtown Winter Park, Old Town and Winter Park Resort throughout the ski season.
Guests of Winter Park Lodging Company can also take advantage of our discounted rates with Home James Transportation, a reputable shuttle service that has been operating between DIA and Winter Park for years.
One Last Piece of Advice
Enjoy the adventure! Winter driving doesn’t need to be a stressful experience; take your time, enjoy the spectacular views around you, and you’ll be driving like a local in no time.