driving in Canada

sly_karma

Green Bastard
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Dec 12, 2005
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I'll post this over in the Wiki as well, but it will probably get seen here sooner for those that are about to leave. I know it should have been done earlier but here it is anyway. First some stuff on general driving rule and customs, then winter driving later on. Most of my driving has been in BC, there could be slight differences in other provinces.



DRIVING IN CANADA

Many things are the same, but some things are different. It's not as hard as you'd think. I know this is obvious, but we'll start at the very beginning:

VEHICLE CONTROLS
1. Canadians drive on the right hand side of the road.
2. The gas, brake and clutch pedals are laid out exactly the same as in cars made for drive-on-the-left countries.
3. Transmission shift levers are mounted toward the centre of the vehicle; ie, the opposite side of what you're used to. Hard-core right handers will enjoy shifting with their so-called 'good hand'. The truly gifted (lefties) will adapt - as they always have.
4. Control levers for wipers, blinkers and so on will mostly be reversed from Australian setup. Yes, you'll find yourself turning the wipers on when you actually intended to signal a left turn. Tip: most GM models have a single control stalk with blinkers and wipers on it. This might be a (minor) factor when deciding what car to rent.

NOMENCLATURE
Americans and Canadians have a few different words related to vehicles. Here are a few, along with their translation. Again, you probably know most of them due to American movies and TV, but what the hey. You could make up flash cards and practice them at home to assist your efforts to sound like a local.
Hood: bonnet
Trunk: boot
Fender: mudguard
Windshield: windscreen
Gas: petrol
Gas pedal: accelerator
Propane: LPG
Stick: manual gearbox
Standard: manual gearbox
4-ways: hazard lights
Glove compartment: glovebox
Windshield antifreeze: exactly what it sounds like. Essential for winter driving because slop and slime accumulates on windshields all the time.
B-train: B-double
Tractor-trailer: semi-trailer
"Yield" sign: "Give Way" sign
Turning circle: roundabout
Defroster: demister


ROAD SIGNAGE

Canada is a metric country, or at least the government thinks so. In everyday usage, their weights and measures are a confusing mish-mash of both systems, but on the roads it's fairly straightforward. Speed limits and distances are shown in kilometres.

Speed limits can be confusing. Generally it's 50 km/h in built-up areas, with lower 30 km/h limits for school zones (8 am to 5 pm). Outside that, you'll find almost anything is posted. Speeds could be as high as 110 km/h on some freeways, and 80, 90 or 100 km/h on two-lane highways, depending on the whim of the Ministry of Highways. Keep your eyes open, because those speed limits can change quite often, and the signs don't have the eye-catching bright red circle around them that Australian drivers are used to.

In the mountainous areas of BC and Alberta, many major highways have digital signboards giving info about conditions ahead. They are of course very brief, but take heed anyway.

Stop signs: Canadian roads use Stop signs much more than Give Way signs. There is such a thing as a Yield which looks the same as an Aussie Give Way and you'll occasionally see them where the traffic powers that be have decided it's OK for people to slow rather than come to a complete stop. In practice, most drivers here slow down, check for traffic and go through slowly if there's nothing coming. Of course, a complete stop is needed if there's a cop watching! It should be noted that stop signs don't always have a painted line indicating where you should stop.

4-way stop: this is a 4-way intersection with stop signs at all four sides. The procedure is that you must give way to all vehicles that were present before you came to a complete stop. In other words, watch to see when it's your turn to go. There's also a thing called a 3-way stop, same rules as a 4-way. If there are pedestrians prsent, they have supreme right of way.

Uncontrolled intersections: occasionally in low-traffic areas there may be no traffic lights or stop signs. In this case, the vehicle on the left yields right of way to the vehicle on the right.

Roundabouts: pretty rare in BC and it shows. The locals have grudgingly got used to them, but out-of-towners are confused as hell. Essentially they operate the same here as they do in Australia, but of course they rotate in the opposite driection. Anyhow, you give way to the traffic already on the roundabout and indicate (right) when you are going to leave.

TRAFFIC LIGHTS

Mostly the same as in Australia with a couple of key differences. You may make a right turn at any red light after coming to a complete halt, unless there is signage specifically prohibiting that (very rare). You can also make a left onto a one-way street against a red - after stopping.

Flashing green light - indicates a pedestrian-controlled traffic light on a through road. Sometimes there are side streets nearby and it is important to understand that these streets do not automatically have right of way when the through road lights turn red - the pedestrians have absolute right of way.

"Prepare to Stop" flashing lights. Normally used approaching traffic lights in speeds zones higher than 50 km/h. They will flash orange a bit before the green light is about to change orange.

Flashing red light: hanging suspended over the centre of an intersection, indicates a 4-way stop or a stop sign coming up.

Flashing orange light: hanging suspended over the centre of an intersection, indicates the side road/s have a stop sign facing them, proceed with caution. Usually employed where the side road is almost as busy as the through road - ditto for the flashing red mentioned above.

SPEED CONTROL AND POLICING

BC no longer has speed control cameras. Traffic light cameras are widespread but only 25% of the mounts actually have cameras in them - they are rotated around a fair bit. Radar is employed in both mobile and stationary modes. The RCMP (Mounties) and local police forces both carry out traffic control duties. Marked and unmarked cars are used. In general, no cop will ticket you at up to 10 km/h over the limit - not that I've seen anyway. I wouldn't try it on for size in a school zone though. Police generally stick to fast, open roads where speeding is more likely - slimmer pickings for them on the twisty roads where people actually need to slow down.

OK, I'll leave this for now and post a winter-specific section in a bit.

 

Crystal

Sand skier extraordinaire
Moderator
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Jan 1, 1970
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Far far away Aussie expat
You forgot one of the most important terms....

Imagine a really cold day...4 Canadians jump in the car and they all say. Turn the heater on BUST.

means flat out.
 
Jun 14, 2004
1,684
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Adelaide
Nice one Sly.

People should get in habit of checking fluid levels in Car regularly, carry appropriate safety gear (flares, matches, water blankets, flashlight etc).
You should always carry extra windshield antifreeze ( as a rule if i though i would need 4 litres for a trip i would take 8 litres.

Driving is the next challenge. Your trip should be well planned. You should allow far more time than you think you will need. As a rule we would allow 25 - 50 % more time than we thought when planning a drive. We would also leave as early as you could in the AM dependant on the weather. We also made sure we stopped regularly to get a coffee, rest, check antifreeze levels etc. From Banff to Kamloops (which was regular trip) we would stop in Field ( to stretch legs ), Golden (THC to go), Revelstoke (Fuel + THC) + Toilet stop at Shuswap.
 
Jun 14, 2004
1,684
3
188
Adelaide
Overtaking BC Style

P1011408.jpg
 
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sly_karma

Green Bastard
Ski Pass
Dec 12, 2005
22,290
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Penticton, BC
WINTER DRIVING


Driving in the winter on the mountainous roads of western Canada can seem daunting, but in reality the infrastructure system does a pretty good job of keeping things flowing. The available resources of snow-clearing and sanding equipment, avalanche forecasting and control and road conditions reporting are quite well co-ordinated and in general only the very worst storms of the season make the main roads truly impassable. Having said that, there are ways to make life easier and less stressful for the driver.

My golden rule: don't be ruled by your schedule.

There are times when you just plain shouldn't be on the road. When the snow is coming down faster than the ploughs and sand trucks can clear it, your best plan is to be safely off the highway relaxing somewhere warm. The peak of a storm rarely lasts more than a few hours, so stop driving and let the snowploughs catch up. If you have subjected yourself to a schedule that doesn't permit waiting, you've removed the most effective tool in your winter driving toolkit. In the teeth of a bad storm you have to drive so slowly that it might actually be faster to get off the road and let the road crews do their work. Take the opportunity to refuel your vehicle and refresh yourself.

VEHICLES AND EQUIPMENT

The type of vehicle you choose is less important than the rubber that contacts the road. A set of four winter-rated tires on a two-wheel drive vehicle is more useful than four wheel drive with standard summer tires. Four wheel drive helps where forward traction is needed, but offers no enhancements in braking and cornering traction which are so necessary in the mountains. 4WD instils a sense of confidence in drivers which the conditions don't always warrant, and the vehicles are often tall and more prone to rollovers.

Wherever possible, seek out true winter tires - these have a snowflake logo on the sidewall. All-season or mud & snow (M&S) tires are better than summer-only 'touring' or high-performance tires, but not as good the true winter treads. The trade-off is generally in tread wear, with the winters' softer compound wearing out more rapidly. It is important that winter tires be installed in sets of four.

ABS brakes are fairly standard these days, but once again, beware of thinking they'll give you better braking distances on snow. Many expert drivers prefer to have ABS switched off for snow driving. It's better to keep a large distance between the vehicles around you than be forced to rely on heavy braking.

OTHER KEY EQUIPMENT

Snow brush/ice scraper: swish off snow with the brush, then use the handle-mounted scraper to get the remaining ice off all windows and mirrors. Can be bought cheap at any gas station or Canadian Tire.

Windshield antifreeze: make sure you have a full reservoir before you head off on a trip, and carry a spare 4 litre jug as well. If conditions are mild, the roads will be a mass of slush and you'll get sprayed by every vehicle you meet in both directions, as per the photo in the above post.

Wiper blades: new ones are required at least once a year. Even if it's a rental, a trip to Canadian Tire for new ones is worth the $30 or so you'll pay for decent winter blades. Best of all are the frameless designs that stay more flexible in the cold.

Defroster: Don't blast it full bore on a cold engine - you're actually venting off any warm air the engine can produce. Start the engine, switch on the rear window defroster, scrape any snow and ice off all the windows. Then turn the defroster fan on at a low to medium setting. You should be able to drive off right away, and the engine will be warm enough to produce hot air within minutes.

In certain temperature/humidity conditions, the windows will fog as soon as you get in the car. Turn the car's air conditioning on (with the temp still set to warm, and fresh air rather than recirculated air) and use the dehumidifying properties of the a/c to help clear the mist off the inside of the glass. You should be able to turn off the a/c once things have cleared.

Emergency kit: shovel, spare warm clothes, flashlight, matches, water and food. A bag of kitty litter is a useful traction aid if you get stuck.

DRIVING STRATEGIES

Gather information. Websites such as http://www.drivebc.ca provide comprehensive information about road conditions and closures, as well as links to weather forecasts.

Plan routes. Avoid high elevation routes if reasonable alternatives exist. High mountain passes may offer shorter distances but can be subject to avalanches, slippery road conditions poor visibility, any of which can quickly erase the purported time and distance savings. Avoid high-traffic routes and big cities if snowy conditions are forecast, as the probability of being involved in a collision climbs rapidly when you're surrounded by many vehicles. Vancouver is particularly bad if you're unfortunatee nough to be there on a rare snowy day. Many vehicles and drivers are poorly equipped for snow and yet don't see the need to slow down on their commute to work.

Plan trips to drive in daylight if possible. Roadside reflectors and marker posts are not universal on Canadian roads because of their vulnerability to snow removal equipment, so it becomes difficult and tiring to see the shoulder and centre lines on dark, snow-covered roads.

Plan some breaks. Driving on slippery roads demands constant concentration, which leads to rapid driver fatigue. When you stop for a driver change, make sure you top up the wiper fluid reservoir and top off the fuel tank. As in Australia, distances between towns can be considerable in Canada.

Avoid wildlife. Bears hibernate in winter, but deer, moose and elk don't. They're most active around dawn and dusk, and on cloudy, overcast days. A collision with any of them can mean major damage to a car. Deer are a common sight on highways in winter, and there's almost always more than one.

DRIVING TACTICS

No sudden moves. When snow and/or ice are present, all your movements on vehicle controls should be smooth and gradual. Rapid, jerky application of brakes, accelerator or steering can quickly lead to vehicle instability.

Leave lots of room. Leave way more room between you and the vehicle ahead than is normal. AT LEAST four seconds' gap is needed - a four second gap works out to a distance of 110 m at a speed of 100 km/h, and 65 m at 60 km/h. The bigger the vehicle in front is, the more room you'll want to leave. It's no fun trying to ride the slipstream of a big semi on a slushy highway - you'll be trapped in a near-whiteout of slush and sand.

Slow down. Higher speeds mean more severe consequences if a loss of traction occurs. Turn off cruise control - if you have a slip or a spin, the cruise control will automatically apply more power to maintain constant speed - just when you should be off the gas.

If you skid: ease off the accelerator and steer slightly into the skid just as you would on a gravel road. Make changes smoothly and gradually to prevent over-correction. Don't brake, as it will make the skid worse.

Slow into corners. Braking should occur before you enter a corner, not during the corner where it can de-stabilise the vehicle. Brake to at least the posted corner speed before you turn the wheel to start the bend. Then you can gently accelerate out of the corner.

Use the gears. Some drivers forget automatics have gears too! Use them, especially on the steep down grades found in the mountains. Engine braking is smoother and less likely to cause instability than conventional brakes, and it saves your brake pads for when you really need them.

Steep uphill grades: in extremely slippery conditions, steep uphill grades can be a real problem. The key is momentum: never come to a complete stop. Look ahead and if a potential trouble spot is coming up, slow down and build up as much room as possible in front of you. Then accelerate smoothly to hit the slope as fast as you dare. Bleed off vehicle speed as traction starts to wane but maintain as much as possible - making it essential you have room in front of you. Around hairpin corners, staying as far as possible to the outside of the corner provides the path with the flattest slope and the gentlest curve.

Traction check: if you're not sure how the road surface is gripping, do a test on a straight, empty piece of road at modest speed. Brake firmly and see how the vehicle reacts. This is especially important in the mountains since temperature conditions can change rapidly as you climb or descend.

Full fuel tank: keep the tank topped off as much as you can. In extremely cold conditions, moisture from the air can crystallise in the tank and cause fuel blockage problems in a low tank. You'll need a reserve of extra fuel in the event of long wait on the roadside due to an accident, avalanche control or a trip into the ditch.

TROUBLE TO LOOK FOR

Bridges and overpasses: at or around zero degrees, bridges and overpasses freeze up before the rest of the roadway does, making for a sudden slippery spot on an otherwise OK road.

Black ice: this condition occurs at around 0°C. If the road looks shiny and black instead of matte grey, be suspicious and do a brake check at low speed.

Shady areas: on a sunny mild day, shaded areas won't melt whilst sunny ones will. As well, trickles of melt water running into the shade can freeze on the road surface.

Intersections: constant braking and melt/freeze from waiting car exhausts can cause icing in intersections, particularly ones at the foot of a steep incline. Intersections can ice up quickly.


IF YOU GET STUCK

1. Make sure you can exit the vehicle safely. Be aware of other traffic on the road before you attempt to get out. Be very vigilant of other vehicles: the same conditions that put you in the ditch could apply to the next guy too.

2. Assess if you can remove the vehicle yourself. Call for assistance if required.

3. If attempting on your own:
- clear all snow away from the vehicle drive wheels
- enhance traction by spreading kitty litter or sand in front of the drive wheels. The vehicle's interior carpet mats could used in a pinch too
- make sure bystanders/helpers are in a safe position and understand your plans
- accelerate the vehicle gently - gunning the throttle just makes the tires spin and polishes the snow.
- if this doesn't work, rock the vehicle back and forth by shifting between forward and reverse gears, gradually extending the distance travelled with each rock.
- when it gets free, check the vehicle for any damage that might have occurred.

If you can't free the stuck vehicle, call for assistance. Then stay with your vehicle. DON'T attempt to walk for help if you're in a remote location. Put on the spare warm clothing and wait for help to arrive. If you want to run the car's engine to provide heat, check that the exhaust is clear of snow or debris so that exhaust fumes aren't forced inside the vehicle interior.
 
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sly_karma

Green Bastard
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Dec 12, 2005
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CHAINS

Chains are rarely used on passenger vehicles in the west. You'll see lanes marked as 'chain up bays' at various places near the major mountain passes, but these are used almost exclusively by commercial vehicles. I'm not aware of chains available for rent to general consumers, and I've never been asked to fit chains in the 18 years I've been driving in Canada.

STUDDED TIRES

In icy conditions, these are the best solution. They provide no extra traction on snow, and they actually reduce dry-road traction a little because the studs contact the road surface slightly before the rubber compound does. In BC, studded tires are permitted between October 1 and April 30 each year.

OTHER NOTES

There is only one toll highway in BC - the 70 km of the Coquihalla section of Highway 5 between Hope and Merritt. This is the fastest route out of the Lower Mainland (Vancouver) area and into the interior, but it climbs very rapidly from sea level at Hope to the summit at 1240 m. In addition, it faces southwest, right into the prevailing storms and can receive over 20 metres of snow in a winter. Numerous avalanche paths cross the highway, and the highway passes through a large snowshed to protect itself from slides. The Coquihalla offers considerable time savings (it cuts off 75 minutes on the Hope-Kamloops section), but it can be difficult, if not impossible, to drive in a bad storm. The toll is $10 for passenger vehicles. Check the digital info boards as you approach this route in winter and consider taking the slower but low elevation Highway 1 as an alternative. If travelling to the southern interior, Highway 3, despite its two-lane status and the slightly higher pass it crosses, gets less snow and can offer a slightly faster trip to Kelowna in poor weather.

Most of the major highway passes in BC are prone to avalanche, and the province spends large amounts to keep these routes safe for travellers. This means that there are sometimes closures of many hours whilst control work (blasting) is carried out. The most commonly closed are the two highways that cross the Selkirk Range in eastern BC: Kootenay Pass on Highway 3 between Salmo and Creston, and Rogers Pass on Highway 1 between Revelstoke and Golden. Unfortunately, there are no routes that avoid these passes without considerable backtracking, so it is wise to check current and forecast avalanche and road conditions before committing to a route. http://www.drivebc.ca is the government's key internet portal for highways.
 
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AJC13B

First Runs
May 6, 2004
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Thats great info, especially the road between Revelstok and Golden, its a path we were thinking of taking in March.

Cheers Sly
 

sly_karma

Green Bastard
Ski Pass
Dec 12, 2005
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Penticton, BC
AJC, the road itself is fine, plenty of passing lanes and no excessively steep grades or nasty corners. I've driven this road many times and it's still one my absolute favourites for scenery. The pass doesn't go particularly high and most of the time it is an easy trip through mountains that tower 1500m above the highway.

However, it crosses the Selkirk Range which gets a lot of snow. The deepest documented snowpacks in Canada are on the peaks overlooking Rogers Pass (although the Coast Range gets more, there isn't long term snowpack data available yet to prove it). There have been regular avalanche deaths in this area since the railway went through in the 1880's. Rogers Pass remains the longest and most complex avalanche program of any highway in North America. The Canadian military uses it as a field training area for their artillery. Every winter they station crews with 155mm howitzers to shoot down potentially dangerous slopes before they slide onto the road. Closures as from 6 hours to more than 24 hours occur several times every winter. They are well publicised but you need to be forewarned before committing to this highway.

If you are in Golden and the road closes, it may be possible to head south on hwys 95/93 to Cranbrook, then join hwy 3 west toward Vancouver, but that necessitates using the higher Kootenay Pass across the same range, and it's not uncommon for them both to close for control work at the same time. The other alternate is to backtrack to Lake Louise, take the Icefields Parkway to Jasper and then head to Kamloops via hwy 5. Either way, these are serious detours that will add many hours to your journey, and of course the same is true for a trip in the reverse direction. The main point is to check ahead online for current conditions AND weather forecasts. You might just be better off staying where you are for a few more days and ski some premium powder instead of trying to drive in it - or sitting in a motel waiting for a pass to open. (Of course if you're stuck in Golden or Revelstoke, you have some killer skiing to occupy the time...)

Avalanche control closures usually follow prolonged heavy snowfalls or sudden warm weather systems - especially rain up high. Keep an eye for this on the forecasts. For specific avalanche forecasting bulletins, the Canadian Avalanche Assocation website is http://www.avalanche.ca/default.aspx?DN=5,4,558,3,Documents
 
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AJC13B

First Runs
May 6, 2004
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Sydney
Great info again, love your work

We leave Kicking Horse on the 1st March and dont fly out of Vancouver until the morning of the 4th, so there is plenty of time with no plans. I left it that way so we could get to Vancouver however we wanted. Then we heard about Revelstoke opening
biggrin.gif
 
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Snail

First Runs
Nov 16, 2007
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Sly this was a very comprehensive guide to alpine road touring - have you thought about publishing it???
Have you ever driven from LA to Mammoth?? We are doing it in a weeks time and I expect it to be a little easier than BC? However, AndDee as predicting a massive storm in the area the day we are driving.
 

sly_karma

Green Bastard
Ski Pass
Dec 12, 2005
22,290
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Penticton, BC
LA to Mammoth, I've been on that road but it was 1985 and in a bus. Remember they get huge Pacific storms there that can dump metres of wet sloppy snow. That means nasty driving conditions: remember, around zero degrees is the trickiest temp range for roads. Colder dry snow is more consistent, grips well and is quite easy to drive on.

Just check the websites and forecasts when you get there and don't be ruled by your schedule.
 

cjp1

Hard Yards
Jun 28, 2007
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Good work Sly. Makes me realise that I had a rather cavalier attitude to driving on my last trip to Canada - all worked out OK but through good luck rather than good management! Will be more careful this time around. I remember our friends asking if we had seen any moose. "Moose?", I said. Until then, I hadn't even considered the implications of a wildlife enounter.
 

sly_karma

Green Bastard
Ski Pass
Dec 12, 2005
22,290
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Penticton, BC
This is what could happen if you hit a moose. Another reason to slow down. Be careful out there.

moose2.jpg
 
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JimiT

First Runs
May 6, 2004
265
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sly_karma said:
If you are in Golden and the road closes, it may be possible to head south on hwys 95/93 to Cranbrook, then join hwy 3 west toward Vancouver, but that necessitates using the higher Kootenay Pass across the same range, and it's not uncommon for them both to close for control work at the same time. The other alternate is to backtrack to Lake Louise, take the Icefields Parkway to Jasper and then head to Kamloops via hwy 5. Either way, these are serious detours that will add many hours to your journey, and of course the same is true for a trip in the reverse direction.

you would have to be NUTS to drive from Golden to Van via Jasper!! If Hwy 1 is closed, the Icefields Parkway will be far worse. single lane, winder than Hwy 1 - I was driving on snow on the Parkway in late October! The Parkway is an awesome scenic drive, but its not a road to drive on when you're in a rush.

Driving via Cranbrook would probably add a whole extra day - its a long long long way.

seriously, as sly says if you're stuck then stay & ski some more. When the roads are bad it really is better not to drive on them - you normally only need to wait for a day or so for them to re-open.

Drive BC is the place to go for road condition reports.

http://www.drivebc.ca/listEvents.jsp?eve...ctFour=&x=7&y=4
 
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JimiT

First Runs
May 6, 2004
265
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PS: deer, elk & moose are just like kangaroos (ie zero road sense), except they are bigger than roos & so hurt more if you hit them. Elk & moose are especially bad - they are quite tall & top heavy, so they often end up in the windscreen if you hit them (imagine a draught horse on longer legs).
 

Pied_Piper

First Runs
May 7, 2004
429
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London
Oh god i am seriously quite worried about driving from whistler to golden / Kicking horse and back during Jan now....

might have to get the hire car for an extra day... or two...
 

sly_karma

Green Bastard
Ski Pass
Dec 12, 2005
22,290
16,074
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Penticton, BC
Today was a good example of what can happen. Left Revelstoke mid afternoon for the drive back to the Okanagan and made it km out of town to join the lineup many km long waiting for avy work in Eagle Pass. Went back to Revelstoke and grabbed a table in Tim Hortons, had a late lunch for an hour until we saw traffic moving on the hwy again. Unfortunately we got stopped for a further hour about 10 km up the road and then crawled along at 50-60 km/h in the rolling traffic jam that ensued once the road reopened. What is normally a 3.5 hr trip turned into 6 hrs even though only a quarter of the distance actually had snow on the road.

Another plea here for people to leave lots of room to the vehicle ahead. 4 seconds is a minimum. We watched with amusement as the vehicles in front of us danced on and off their brakes for literally a couple of hours, just because they tailgating so close. Of course they got there the same time we did because there's no point in trying to overtake a line of traffic that is over 3 km long. Sit back, accept it will be a slow trip and have a stress free time.
 

JimiT

First Runs
May 6, 2004
265
0
0
this is what the Icefields Parkway looked like yesterday..

239555163-S.jpg


compared to Hwy #1 (between Lake Louise & Banff), only about 10km down the road from the 1st pic

239555362-S.jpg
 
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sly_karma

Green Bastard
Ski Pass
Dec 12, 2005
22,290
16,074
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Penticton, BC
I know I'd prefer to drive on the dry snow than in the slush mix that was on the #1 in that pic. Rogers Pass yesterday was sloppy and dirty down low and then dry and grippy up top. More snow, yes, and less vis too, but I much prefer driving on snow than in slush.
 
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