Winter and Mountains: The Challenging Road Ahead

wintery mountains and truck on the snow road
Truck on the snow road

Truckers that need to travel through British Columbia are in for a challenging winter season.  On the 14th of November, large amounts of rain pounded the lower mainland of BC causing flooding, mudslides, and enormous damage to infrastructure.  All major roads into and out of Vancouver, BC were affected on the Canadian side of the Canada-US border.

Fortunately, BC and the rest of Canada are home to incredibly talented and hard-working emergency workers and builders and they were quick to do what they could to find ways for traffic to start moving again.  However, the damage done by the storms was so intense that rebuilding will take a considerable amount of time.

Drivers in BC will have to contend with significant delays for the time being while temporary passages are created alongside permanent repairs.  For drivers new to BC and wintertime mountain driving, extra care will be needed when travelling through the storm-stricken Province.

Allow for Extra Time

Wintertime requires patience for all drivers and even more for truckers.  The cold temperatures create dangers from frostbite and hypothermia and snow and ice make driving extra dangerous.  In the Canadian Rocky Mountains, these challenges are compounded by steep grades and sharp curves.

For this season in particular, practicing patience will be key for novice drivers and seasoned professionals alike.  The previously-mentioned flood damage will make for significant delays, and trucking is already stressed by unusually high demands on North America’s supply chain.

When people hurry and make panicked decisions, trouble starts.  Getting into a panic and forgetting to do a proper pre-trip or not installing chains when required are examples of small mistakes with big consequences.  Remember to be patient, plan ahead, and be kind to other road users and those making the repairs.

Mountain Advice for the Winter Season

New truckers need to approach wintertime mountain driving with extreme caution.  Everybody is new at this type of driving, and learning tips and tricks ahead of time can help make learning to drive in mountains easier and less of a shock.

Tire Chains :

As of October 1st, big trucks travelling in BC must carry tire chains.  Even if the weather and roads are fine, the chains must be somewhere on the vehicle.  This is because weather changes quickly in BC.

Make sure you have enough tire chains for your drive axles; it is also a good idea to carry a single set for the trailer so that you have extra braking force when you need it and a trailer that is less likely to slide around.

Practice using tire chains before the snow starts falling, too.  It is challenging to install tire chains, so don’t wait to learn this skill when the weather is bad.  Do a couple of practice runs in good weather first so you are more confident in using these devices.

Emergency Food, Water, and Clothing

As we saw in BC with the flooding, it is possible to become stranded for long periods of time.  Even without the extraordinary issues facing the Province now, routine snow storms can cause road closures that leave drivers stranded.

Don’t hit the road without enough food, water, and warm clothing to last a few days.  Not only will it make you more confident and less in need of help should something go wrong, packing food for long road trips will also save you money if you can cut back on convenience store purchases.

Mechanical Tips and Tricks

Your equipment needs to be thoroughly inspected before the winter season starts.  Winter is hard on trucks; small defects can become big problems when the weather gets cold, and being stranded by a broken-down truck makes for a dangerous situation in extreme cold.

As a driver, you can carry certain supplies to help solve some of winter’s truck-related problems.  First, some airbrake antifreeze should be kept to help unclog ice blockages and, if used properly, to prevent them from occurring in the first place.  Second, diesel fuel treatment should be carried to treat fuel that does not have a winter additive; if you fuel in warm locations and then travel north, it is possible to have gelled diesel fuel stop the engine if it isn’t properly treated.

Third, drum brakes have a tendency to freeze and get stuck in the winter.  Make sure you have the tools and skills needed to address this issue before heading out.  Here’s a tip for this: don’t set the parking brakes on the trailer until they have had a chance to cool off (at least 15 minutes is a good, basic rule, although if you are parked on steep terrain you should forget this rule and focus on making sure your rig is secure).

Parking or Going?

It’s important to understand the limitations of your vehicle and skill level.  It doesn’t make sense to go when it’s likely you’ll become stranded, so pay attention to road reports and don’t attempt a trip that is unlikely to be successful.

In the mountains in the wintertime, always check the route ahead of you before you leave each safe parking spot.  Sometimes road closures and emergencies happen with little warning; if you find out mid-trip your route is closed and you are already in a safe spot, consider yourself lucky that you are in a safe place to wait until the route opens.  If this happens, you’ll be glad you stocked up on food, water, and clothing.

Summary

Winter driving is challenging everywhere in Canada, and mountains add an extra layer of trickery.  However, all professional drivers were new at one point and learned how to navigate in this terrain.  With patience and a willingness to learn tips and tricks from others, you will be successful.