Snow Wheelin 101

Don't go alone. It should go without saying that snow wheelin alone isn't the best idea. The further out you go and the less popular roads you travel, the more important this becomes.

ford pickup stuck on snowy road
This driver was
alone, and should
have stopped sooner!
Stop before you get stuck. That's right STOP. Getting unstuck from the snow is generally pretty easy, unless of course you make it worse. So if you're stuck, just stop. Unless you've got some advanced snow driving skills, it's pretty unlikely that your going to drive out. Stop early and get a tug or dig your way out. You'll have more fun!

Be alert to changing snow conditions. As the weather, angle of the sun, elevation, temperature, etc change, so does the snow. What was easily passable on the way in, may create quite the challenge to get out. I've been in situations where the temp drops and crystallizes the snow into what I like to call "sugar snow". When this happens, it doesn't matter who you are or what you are driving, you're in for a long trip out. Other times the surface of the snow will melt in the sun, and then freeze into a sheet of ice after the sun passes. This will create some challenges if you came down any hills or did any sidehilling on the way in.

Air down your tires. Airing down isn't going to do any good unless you're under 10 PSI. If you're unwilling to air down, then you might as well go home. I typically start at 5PSI and work down to 2-3 PSI if needed. This of course means you'll want On-Board air to fill your tires back up.

Don't spin your tires. The moment your forward progress halts, stop and backup. If your tires are spinning and you're not moving, you're just digging in.

Try different gears. Different types of snow require different driving techniques. If you've stopped making forward progress, try starting out in different gears. Often your lowest gear is too torquey and causes you to dig in. I frequently start out in second or third lugging the engine. It's a taller gear that prevents excessive wheel spin.

As slow as possible, as fast as necessary. High throttle assaults on the snow sure are fun and make for some great snow wheelin videos, but it's generally the least effective technique. More often than not, too much throttle is what will halt your progress. Basically the idea is too roll across the snow.

Stay out of the inside of corners. Turning in the snow is going to halt your progress. In tougher snow conditions, I'll conquer the switch backs in a series of straight lines. Keeping far to the outside of the turn. This is also an effective technique when trying to get unstuck in the snow. Get your wheels straight and make small adjustments to get back on the road. This often very unintuitive.

Gravity can be your best or worst friend in the snow. If you're being pulled in a direction you don't want to go, remember stop early and dig out!

There are 4 comments
Roger – Seattle
November 22, 2013 - 15:42
Subject: Stop even sooner

This is all excellent advice. I can't count the number of times I've seen people think they can get through snow by giving it more power and spinning more. This sometimes works in snow that is not very deep (under 2 feet or so) where you can dig to the bottom. But in deep snow, it just gets you stuck really good.

But I'd modify one of your suggestions just a little. You say "The moment your forward progress halts, stop and backup." Personally I find it helps to stop one moment before that. :) That is, when the snow has brought you almost to a stop, you should remove your foot from the gas and push in the clutch about 1/2 second before your rig would stop anyway. This allows the tires to stop digging and ride up a bit on the snow. It can be hard to judge exactly when to back off, but when done correctly it makes it much more likely you will be able to backup without getting stuck.

Reply to Roger
Matt – Stanwood, Wa
November 22, 2013 - 15:56
Subject: Re: Stop even sooner

hey, this is the 101 class. But now that you've let that cat out of the bag, I often use the "roll" technique to help get back "on top". ;)

JHT67 – Alaska
April 23, 2013 - 01:57

Man I wish I found this site back in October. I probably could have saved a lot of pine tree branches that I had to cut to use for traction. Never again will I run Michelin's on my truck.

joshyddog – washington,puyallup
April 15, 2012 - 12:26
Subject: Wow thanks!!

Didn't know about starting in a different gear!!

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