A series of powerful and dangerous winter storms are sweeping across a large swath of the United States today, snarling travel, wreaking havoc on power grids, and ensuring that there will be no bread, milk or eggs at your local Kroger for the foreseeable future.
Now, you might be tempted to brave the roads over the next few days. Sure, there’s a strong chorus of voices advising you not to—local officials, the National Weather Service, your partner—but you’ve just got that one more errand that can’t wait until afterwards, and besides… you can handle it. You grew up someplace where snows like this were common, even welcomed! You know that all these people around here are just soft, and a little ice and snow isn’t a problem if you know what you’re doing.
Of course, you’re wrong.
Dangerous road conditions aren’t a thing you can control, and a municipality’s ability to respond is largely dependent on resources committed based on the expectations of a normal snow season. It doesn’t make sense for a Southern or Sun Belt city to maintain a large fleet of plows or a strategic salt reserve, and even if they were able to treat the roads the same way your frigid hometown did, there’s no accounting for what happens when another driver loses control and skids into your path.
Should you decide to go out in this weather, though, we’ve got someone with a few tips for you. After an extensive nationwide search, we’ve located The Best Winter Driver in America. His name is Gary “Rocksalt” Mortenson, and he’s going to tell you how to handle this like a pro.
Gary, thanks for taking the time to speak with us.
So, how did you become the Best Winter Driver In America?
Well, it’s simple. I grew up with it. You see, I grew up in Moosefrost, Minnesota. It’s thirty miles north of the Canadian border, yet somehow still legally in the United States. This is a place where six inches of snow is a warm spring afternoon to us. We only see the grass for two weeks each year, and that’s the way we like it. Too showy, if you ask me, all that green and brown. Snow builds character, and driving on snow? Well, heck, that’s something I’ve been doing since I was eight years old.
Any tips for our readers on how to stay safe if they need to venture out in the next few days?
Absolutely. The biggest thing you’ll want to do is be prepared. You’re not from Moosefrost, so chances are, you’re going to find yourself buried in a snowbank, spinning the tires on that fancy SUV of yours that you never learned how to drive anywhere more treacherous than the Starbucks drive-thru.
Not if you’re prepared. You’ll want to pack blankets, warm weather clothing. Hand warmers. Food. Medicine. Flashlights. A First Aid kit. Road flares. Jumper cables. Reading material. On average, you should expect to spend the next six to eight weeks trapped in your car, and you’ll want to be comfortable. Bring a portable DVD player, a gas generator, and the complete series of The West Wing. Is it overly idealistic? Sure. But so is thinking that Land Rover’s gonna keep a sunnyfoot like you out of the ditch.
I’m sorry, “sunnyfoot”?
Yeah, that’s what we call people from down there.
I like it. It’s cheery.
You know what’s not cheery? Freezing to death without the comfort of naively soothing political storylines from the mind of Aaron Sorkin.
Okay, well, that’s obviously a worst-case scenario. Can you advise our readers on ways to stay out of the snowbank in the first place?
Sure thing. Now, let’s say you’re driving along, havin’ a grand ol’ time, thinking you’ve got things under control. Ope! Suddenly you’re in a skid and you’re headed straight for a guardrail, about to crash through it and drop into the ice-choked river below. Your urge is gonna be to fight it, but you’ve gotta do just the opposite: steer into the skid.
I’ve been doing that in a metaphorical sense for years.
Turn your wheel the direction your back tires are sliding. Bingo-bango, you’re back on track, you’ve avoided a frigid, watery grave, and you’re gonna get that tureen of soup home to your family without even spilling a drop.
Wait, in this hypothetical, I have gone out for soup?
Marge’s Bistro. The wild rice and mushroom chowder’s the best dang soup in Moosefrost. Someone dies driving for it each winter.
I see. What other tips do you have?
Try the Monte Cristo. She only serves it on Wednesdays, and it’s delicious.
I meant for driving.
Oh, right. Don’t go using cruise control in winter conditions. You lose your feel for the road doing that, and you won’t be able to react in time if you need to.
That makes sense.
I like to have a real close feel for the road. That’s why I had my driver’s side door removed, so I can drag one bare foot along the ground as I drive.
That sounds cold.
Pfft. Maybe to someone from somewhere soft like Atlanta or Dallas or Minneapolis. But to the real iceheads like me, that’s the only way to know exactly what kind of snow you’re driving on, is to feel it between your toes as you ride.
Now, you’ve talked about things to pack in the car, but are there preparations our readers should make to the car itself?
Absolutely. First, windshield washer fluid. The regular stuff can freeze right up on you, so you’ll want a winter formula. Me? I put liquid helium in there. Lowest freezing point of any element. Can’t be frozen at normal atmospheric pressures. It’s a little more expensive, but it’s a small price to pay for a clean windshield. As far as your wheels themselves—snow tires are good, snow chains are better. Of course, if things get really hairy out there, like the Blizzard of ‘04, well, you’re going to want something a little more robust. That’s why I drive the train from Snowpiercer. Doesn’t get great gas mileage, but the handling can’t be beat.
I’m almost certain that was CGI.
Heck yeah it was, Cruising Great InWinter.
Food’s great, too.
I feel like perhaps the lesson I am learning here is that driving in winter conditions like this is just not worth the hassle. Sure, there are times where it will be unavoidable—emergency situations, or essential workers who need to get to and from work. But for the average person who thinks they’ll be safe driving to Planet Fitness in a blizzard simply because they grew up in Michigan, there’s a lot of factors that they’re refusing to accept are simply out of their control, and it’s not worth the very real risk of accident, injury or even death. Anyways, I appreciate you taking the time to talk with us, Gary, but I think unless I’m in Moosefrost on a soup errand, I’ll just stay in the next few days. It’s not like I’m not used to staying in at this point.
Fine. But hey—make sure you have enough kitty litter.
Oh, wait, I know this one. You keep a few bags of it in your trunk to increase weight, which helps with traction in general, but if you get stuck in the ice you can spread the granules underneath your tires to give them a chance to grip better, right?
No. It’s for cats.
They poop in it.
[sighs] Gary, The Best Winter Driver In America, folks.
—Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)