When you live in the Denver metro area, heading to the mountains for some weekend winter fun is a given. Even if you’re not a hardcore skier, boarder or backcountry adventurer, you’re going to be drawn into the mountains eventually. They are the jewels in Colorado’s crown.
It’s often more fun to read about snow sports destinations and activities than it is to learn about choosing winter tires and using snow chains. In inclement weather, the interstate highway can be treacherous—never mind passes like Berthoud, Loveland and Vail. When it’s not snowing, high winds and plummeting temperatures can create hazardous driving conditions on the most well-traveled routes. In short, with our winter weather, understanding and implementing these products is essential.
Start with the Right Tires
If you’ve moved to the Denver from a flatland city back East, as many transplants do, you probably haven’t paid much attention to your tires. Some of us are even guilty of price shopping for tires.
However, proper winter tires can help prevent sliding on I-70 or getting stuck on a high-country mountain pass, so it’s important to choose the right ones.
Snow tires vs. all-terrain tires. Snow tires, with their large grooves and many tiny sipes, or tiny slits in the rubber, are made for spending drive time in the mountains. If you have a vehicle dedicated to such trips, snow tires offer the best traction and stability, according to Edmunds.
If you also use your car to regularly commute to work, drive your kids to school and haul groceries, however, you might want to consider all-terrain tires. They’ll be tough enough to handle the conditions you may face up there, yet they’ll offer a smoother, quieter ride while driving in town.
If you go for an all-terrain tire, make sure it has been designed for use in severe winter conditions. An all-terrain tire equipped for winter weather is easily identifiable: Just look for the mountain/snowflake symbol on the sidewall.
Go for four, and keep ‘em inflated. It doesn’t matter if you have front-wheel, rear-wheel, all-wheel or four-wheel drive—get four snow tires or appropriate all-terrain tires for your vehicle, not two. And make sure they match! Otherwise, tirerack.com notes you’re compromising performance and handling, which is not a good idea anywhere, much less on snow-, slush- or ice-covered roads.
Finally, check your tire pressure regularly — at least once per month. Pressure decreases as temperatures drop.
What Are Snow Chains … And Do I Need Them?
Anyone new to the Front Range has driven along I-70 and seen the chain stations. Perhaps you’ve even seen the lighted signs indicating the mile markers where chains are required. What does this all mean for the average driver?
The Colorado Chain Law applies to every state, federal and interstate highway and ensures that drivers use appropriate snow tires or tire chains on mountain highways during heavy snow conditions. According to the Colorado State Patrol, the law has two levels that can be invoked.
- Level 1: Chains or adequate snow tires are required. That means as a noncommercial driver, you don’t have to use chains provided you have appropriate winter tires, featuring either the mud and snow (M/S) rating or the all-weather rating on the sidewall.
- Level 2: Chains only. This means you have to use conventional, steel-link chains… unless you have a four-wheel-drive vehicle with appropriate winter tires.
When the chain law is in effect, you’ll see signs on the roadway indicating which vehicles need to chain up.
For more information about chain station locations, when snow tires are required, what types of metal chains are acceptable and violation penalties, visit the Colorado State Patrol FAQ page online. You also can call (303) 639-1111 for chain-up information and updates on current road conditions.
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