Top Tips for Driving Safely in the Mountains

This summer many people are nervous about traveling, especially via commercial transportation. With the various concerns surrounding public and commercial travel, people are turning their focus to road trips focused more on places that will allow them to be outdoors as much as possible. Reports show that Denver, CO is a hot attraction for road trippers, likely because of its proximity to tons of outdoor activities including treks up and down the Rocky Mountains. 

Everyone loves a vacation up to the mountains, but before you leave home there are a number of things to make sure you consider. In addition to making plans ahead of time to account for the potential lack of cellphone/GPS reception and lack of services available in certain areas, these tips are a must-read before your next trip. 

1. Altitude's effects on your car

Just like you, your car may struggle with the altitude. With less oxygen available to move through your car’s engine, the engine may labor to keep things running smoothly. Sources say that driving SUVs or other cars with all wheel drive will help your car make the journey up to the mountains safely. Thinking purely scientifically, with less air available to your car’s engine, it may benefit from additional compression of air from a turbocharger

2. Changing weather conditions

Beyond the thinner air quality at altitude, there is also a chance that the weather can be harsh in the mountains and you can even experience snow at unseasonable times. For this reason, it’s always a good idea to travel in the mountains with cars that are ready for intense weather conditions, preferably cars with all wheel drive and all season tires. Driving cars with more ground clearance is also a good idea, so you are not caught in snow or have adverse effects of snow blocking your car’s wheels or exhaust

While it is significantly less common to see snow in the off season, there is always a high likelihood of fog at all times of the year (since clouds and other weather systems sometimes get trapped in the mountains). In some ways, driving in fog is similar to driving in ice and snow, with recommendations to drive slowly and not make sudden changes in speed or direction. Depending on the temperature, fog can also freeze onto roadways, creating a thin, slick layer of ice that can be hard to see. 

3. Blind roads + Wildlife

Part of the draw of spending time in the mountains is the expansive outdoors, replete with wildlife. There are tons of scenic routes to drive through the mountains, many of which include blind corners that may conceal wild animals. Even when weather conditions are clear, it’s important to keep your car in good shape so you can stop or maneuver quickly, without accidentally going off the road. Take your time on mountain roads, with the assumption that there might be an animal in the road around a blind corner, so you are ready to adjust safely for you and the animal. 

If you are driving in the dark, note that there are certain animals whose eyes do not reflect the light from headlights (commonly in the mountains: squirrels and people). Additionally, creatures like moose may be too tall to pick up your headlights in their eyes, and their dark fur and long, spindly legs in your sightline might make it hard to see them if you are driving in a car that is lower to the ground. Be extra alert as the sun rises or sets, as that is a time when many mountain-dwelling animals are most active. 

Driving with a conscious respect for weather and wildlife is an important step towards having a safe and fun trip up to the mountains. In addition to being in the right headspace to drive safely, be sure to keep your vehicle in shape so it is ready to perform in the challenging conditions. If you have a choice, look towards driving an SUV, truck, or other all wheel drive vehicle into the mountains, regardless of the season. 

Alpine Media has partnered with various resorts around Colorado to facilitate communications surrounding guest safety and changing weather conditions. Alpine Media’s All Mountain Platform shares out real-time emergency updates about traffic and road closures between Denver and the mountains, to make sure that everyone can stay safe out there. 

Joules Snopek


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