Lay of the Land
Throughout the Rockies, roads wind in and out of valleys and ascend high mountain passes, where weather can be unpredictable even in summer. An example is Independence Pass, which reaches an elevation of 12,095 feet. Connecting Aspen with the Arkansas Valley, Colorado Highway 82 crosses the Sawatch Range at this point, taking you through the White River National Forest. Mountain roads are not like city freeways, as they a lot of wear and tear from the climate and environmental factors. They commonly twist and turn, take you up and down steep grades and close to sheer drop-offs, making it imperative to stay alert.
Tips for Driving Mountain Passes
Take care when driving in the mountains! By following some simple rules, you can stay safe.
- Let faster traffic pass you
When you are moving slowly up steep grades or on winding roads and you find traffic is backing up behind you, pull over and let the other cars pass. You don’t have to go faster than you feel comfortable. It’s common courtesy and keeps you from traveling too fast.
- Slow down for those sharp curves
Keep your speed down when you are driving mountain roads. When you aren’t used to all those sharp curves, and going too fast, your car can drift too far towards the centerline or near the edge of a cliff.
- Don’t ride your brakes (and perhaps have them fail as a result)
When you begin to descend after crossing a mountain pass, slow down and shift into a lower gear. Riding your brakes can overheat them and cause them to fail. Speeds can also get out of hand otherwise.
- Pull over if you feel altitude sickness coming on
Altitude sickness manifests with dizziness or lightheadedness. Symptoms can sometimes get severe. When you cross a mountain pass, the air gets thin and you may experience a lack of oxygen. Pull over and take slow, deep breaths until you adapt. Then you can continue driving.
Tips for Driving on Snow
Snowy conditions can occur in the mountains even in the summer months. Be ready for it!
- Always check conditions before you start out
Prior to driving over a mountain pass at any time of year, check the conditions of the road and have a second route ready in case the pass is blocked, closed or has inclement weather.
- Keep your speed down
Always be aware that the faster you’re driving, the more difficult it is to control your car on an icy or snow-covered road. Adjust your speed for the conditions, and take it easy!
- Leave a lot of space between you and the car ahead
Stay well behind the car in front of you. You don’t want to have to slam on your brakes suddenly on a snow-covered road or if ice is present. Never tailgate.
- Take chains
At higher elevations, conditions can change rapidly, so always have your chains with you.
- Be prepared for any eventuality
Carry emergency equipment in your trunk, like jumper cables, a spare tire, flashlight, flares – and yes, don’t forget an ice scraper. It would be a good idea to also have a blanket or two and some food and water. Make sure your car has plenty of gas.