How to drive on snow?
After an eye-opening drive across northern Kashmir behind the wheel of the Mahindra Scorpio, our senior correspondent shares some winter driving lessons
All things associated with the Thrill of Driving are of second nature to us at evo India and very instinctively, we head out chasing the great driving roads, fast cars and picturesque backdrops to sum up the equation. However, last month was different. There was no chasing fast cars and I was miles away from great driving roads. I was out exploring a starkly contrasting version of the Thrill of Driving, exploring virgin Kashmir on an expedition curated by Wander Beyond Boundaries. There were no new cars and we were driving the veterans of the 4X4 universe — Mahindra Thar (old-gen), Mahindra Scorpio and Maruti Suzuki Gypsy. Naturally, there were heaps of snow in north Kashmir and this was an ideal (and an extremely slippery) ground to learn driving on snow. To safely drive on snow you should…
Worship engine braking
Snow and engine braking are good friends. Especially on steep descents, engine braking is important as it uses the decelerative forces in the engine to slow the car down in a controlled manner. All you have to do is slot into a lower gear, release your feet from the pedals and be in control of the vehicle’s steering. As precaution, your right foot can continue hovering over the brake pedal in case a sudden obstacle pops up ahead of you.
Be light on the brakes
The powertrain is usually pulling over a tonne of mass on the road. On snow and ice, the grip levels are scarce and sudden braking can easily unsettle the car and have you skating. The sophisticated Snow Mode in your Land Rover will do you no good either. In such conditions, hard braking can cause your wheels to lock up, and in case of cars with ABS, the braking distances can be dangerously long. Best way is to drive slowly, vigilantly scan the road ahead, maintain enough distance from the vehicles ahead and feather the brakes when required.
Use snow chains
As we ventured deeper into North Kashmir, the roads turned into endless trails and there was a thick blanket of snow over every object in sight. All our cars had 4X4 and low-range gearboxes, but snow chains played a critical role in our progress. When wrapped tightly around a tyre, snow chains provide phenomenal grip thanks to their design, which is much thicker and the metal used is stronger than the tread pattern on your tyres.
How to put snow chains? Click here to learn
However, one doesn’t just put on the chains and simply start driving. There are things to keep in mind before heading out. Ensure that the chains correctly fit your tyre size and do not forget to remove them the moment you touch dry terrain or regular roads. The chains are designed to sink into snow and driving on regular roads will not only break them but also damage your tyres, steering rack and even the road underneath. Brands like Konig and Pewag have listed down good options on their website and Amazon also sells a variety of snow chains across a broad price range.
Learn throttle control
It’s thrilling to watch Sebastian Ogier go flat out on snow at the WRC Arctic Rally. But for regular drivers like us, driving like Seb is the last thing you want to do. To make progress, maintaining steady throttle is of paramount importance. Too little input is as dangerous as too much input. The former won’t thrust your car forward and the latter will leave you spinning like a ballerina. The best option is to feather the throttle and modulate your inputs smoothly according to the road ahead.
That's not all; before you head out into the winter wonderland, ensure that your vehicle is in top condition and familiarise yourself with the four low and high settings of your SUV. Most modern 4X4s can switch between these two on the fly but if you're driving old workhorses like the Gypsy or Thar, the trick is to engage neutral, switch to four high or low depending on the terrain, and shift into reverse gear to activate 4X4. That said, if you're out on a long expedition, pack warm and waterproof clothes, instant food packets and do not forget to soak in all the beauty that snow bestows on you!