I spent the first year of my journalism career working in British Columbia, specifically the Village of Nakusp about an hour south of Revelstoke along the Arrow Lake, also called the Columbia River. This is sheer alpine country, with mountain ranges on both sides of the river.
Now, I grew up in Oyen, a small town of 1,000 people in eastern Alberta, only about half an hour from the Saskatchewan border. This is where I learned to drive a vehicle, including the standard transmission. It’s pretty flat out around Oyen. Very different from the interior of B.C.
My new job with the Arrow Lakes News began in October 1995, that time of year when the leaf turns yellow, the trees are bare and the wind has that frosty edge to it that suggests trouble to come and, boy, did trouble come. It turned out to be a long, cold, snowy winter and I had to learn how to drive in the mountains on those icy roads.
It was at this time I developed my respect and admiration for the people who make winter tires. I’d never really thought about them much because I grew up in a farm area where most people refer to such technology as a waste of money.
One incident I had in Nakusp included yours truly driving the company-owned delivery vehicle equipped with 10 year old bald tires combined with mountain roads coated in sheer ice just west of town. To even tap the brakes put the vehicle in almost a sideways slide. How I made it to Vernon for printing and back to Nakusp I still to this day don’t know.
Then there was another incident where I was returning in winter darkness from Vernon with a van full of newspapers. The snakelike road skirting the mountains had iced up quickly after the sun fell, and several kilometers of the road was a fresh layer of frozen lake vapor similar to skating rink ice. Coming around a curve I saw a vehicle half-hanging off the road, pointing down at the lake. A few other vehicles had stopped to help, and when I slowed down to offer more help, slightly touching the brakes, I found out why that vehicle was perched precariously at the edge of oblivion. It was so icy, I could barely walk on the road surface.
So after getting smart and moving back to Alberta, I looked into getting winter tires for my car. I have a twin brother who works for a major tire chain, so he was always mentioning winter tires after I related my icy road horror stories.
Winter tires are not just a scam or fraud thought up by the tire industry. Special technology goes into their engineering and use, and they definitely make a difference.
Winter tires are identifiable by a mark on the sidewall shaped like a snowflake. These tires are composed of a softer, more supple rubber that, unlike all-season tires, doesn’t harden as quickly in cold weather. All-season tires, as they harden, have weaker grip on the icy road and when they can’t grip, they slide.
A softer rubber retains better grip in cold weather, doesn’t slide as quickly and provides your vehicle with improved grip while driving on icy surfaces. Most importantly, winter tires allow your vehicle to slow down more quickly on icy roads.
It’s the time of year to start thinking about winter tires. If you’ve ever been involved in a winter collision, a snowy near-miss or sliding along icy mountain roads, you know it’s important to do everything possible to prevent the destruction of your vehicle, an injury or even worse.
Stu Salkeld is the editor of The Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.