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Old 10-03-2011, 10:58 AM
 
Location: Centennial, CO
156 posts, read 604,873 times
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I need advice and information, please! We live in Denver, but we don't go up into the mountains very often, and I've only driven across the Rockies on I-70 (coming from Las Vegas) once, and that was in the summer. We are planning a trip to Disneyland this Christmas, and have decided to drive. The shortest route is via I-70, and I'm a little anxious about going that way in the winter. We will be taking my DH's 4WD truck, but I swear the few times I've driven on I-70 I've seen signs about needing chains in the winter. I'd appreciate any advice or information on what it's like to drive that highway in the winter. We could take I-25 to I-40 and go south, but it's quite a bit further. But safety comes first...sorry to sound so paranoid! But I know I'll be doing at least half the driving, and I want to know what to expect.
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Old 10-03-2011, 11:19 AM
 
Location: On the sunny side of a mountain
2,970 posts, read 6,605,182 times
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You don't need chains on a 4WD personal truck, it's only for the commercial truckers, do be sure your truck has good tires. CDOT does a great job maintaing I-70, but there are times when it shuts down due to accidents or very heavy snow. Check their website for road conditions and web cams. Once you're past Vail it should be a fairly easy drive, if there has been a recent storm Glenwood Canyon may have some icy spots, just take it slow, keep good distance between cars and drive smart, you should be just fine.

Also beware of the skier traffic jams. Friday, December 23rd, Westbound and Sunday & Monday, January 1st & 2nd, Eastbound will likely be very busy.
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Old 10-03-2011, 11:35 AM
 
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With my four decades of mountain driving experience in Colorado and the Rocky Mountain West, here are my recommendations: I-70 may be dry and fine in December, or it can be a winter driving nightmare. The real problem on I-70 usually is not the adverse winter conditions--it usually doesn't get any worse winter conditions than any other Colorado mountain road--it's the sheer amount of traffic on the road and the number of winter driving idiots that it harbors. I-25/I-40 can be an option, but is is no panacea, either. I-25 south can be an absolute nightmare in a bad winter storm--again, the idiots on the road being a bigger problem than the road conditions themselves. Same with I-40 around Gallup and Flagstaff in the higher elevations it traverses in New Mexico and Arizona. I-40, in particular (like I-80 in Wyoming) also has a proliferation of semi-truck traffic that can further complicate things.

As to the chain law in Colorado, non-commercial 4WD vehicles are exempt from having chains required, even when the chain law is in effect. That said, a 4WD truck with no weight in the back can be pretty squirrelly on slick roads, even with 4WD engaged. I recommend putting at least 300 lbs. of weight as far to the rear of the truck as possible if one is anticipating winter driving conditions. Some bags of "Tube Sand"--available at most hardware stores--serve very well for that purpose.

All of this said, the best 4WD vehicle does not compensate for lack of winter driving experience if one is tackling Colorado mountain roads in winter driving conditions. People driving in winter road conditions who lack experience in coping with those conditions (often with a dose of overconfidence either in their estimation of their own driving abilities or the abilities of their vehicle) is the major cause of "accidents" during winter driving conditions. I put "accidents" in quotes because "accident" implies an unpreventable mishap caused by conditions beyond the control of the driver. In fact, most winter driving crashes occur when one or more parties involved lack the driving experience or lack sufficient vehicle preparation to prevent a mishap. That's really not an "accident."
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Old 10-03-2011, 11:54 AM
 
Location: Centennial, CO
156 posts, read 604,873 times
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Thank you all so much for the advice. The back of our truck will have suitcases, ice chests, and a wheelchair in it, but we may still put sandbags in. We lived in Minnesota for 8 years, so we have experience driving in snow and ice, but just not in the mountains. Thanks again!
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Old 10-03-2011, 12:10 PM
 
8,317 posts, read 25,091,437 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sheridan1962 View Post
Thank you all so much for the advice. The back of our truck will have suitcases, ice chests, and a wheelchair in it, but we may still put sandbags in. We lived in Minnesota for 8 years, so we have experience driving in snow and ice, but just not in the mountains. Thanks again!
Mountain winter driving can be different from "flat land" winter driving. What usually trips drivers up is how to handle their vehicle on downgrades. As an example, I nearly always shift my 4WD vehicle OUT of 4WD on slick downgrades-because the front axle drag in 4WD can actually cause a loss of steering control when coming downhill. When you see a 4WD in the ditch in winter mountain driving conditions, it almost always is on a downgrade. Having 4WD is of zero benefit on downgrades, and many people don't compensate for that. They think that because they can fly upgrade at good speed in 4WD without slippage that they can cruise downgrade at the same speed. Not. (This can also be a problem with front-wheel-drive cars if the driver is driving downgrade at excessive speed for conditions.)

The other issue in Colorado mountain driving can be temperature. The slickest winter road conditions can occur when the ambient temperature is at or just below freezing--a frequent occurrence in Colorado in winter--especially around mid-day. Combine that with Colorado's penchant for using mag chloride to melt snow and ice, and conditions can get real nasty when either temperature or mag chloride applications are sufficient to put a nice little patina of water on top of ice and snow and the road, but are not sufficient to completely melt the underlying snow and ice. If it then gets cold enough to refreeze that water into ice, things get even more "interesting."
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Old 10-03-2011, 12:35 PM
 
Location: Avondale, AZ
1,207 posts, read 4,136,552 times
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We have done the drive to SoCal and Vegas many times. Only twice we were affected by severe weather. Watch the 7 day forecasts for relavent cities both directions> I70- Vail, Glenwood Springs, Grand Junction, Richfield(UT), Beaver(UT) > I25-I40- Raton, Albuquerque, Gallup, Flagstaff. The southern route is normally a couple hours longer, but if I-70 has any weather going on, then you add several hours to that route anyway.
We had to use I-50 east out of Grand Junction one Thankgiving because of I70 being closed due to accidents. Another time I drove through a horrible snowstorm from Albuquerque though AZ on I40.
Jazz made a great point about downhill sections and bad road conditions. Seems like the worst section of I-70 are the sections around the Eisenhower tunnel. People going to fast and then trying to slow down after they are on the downgrade.
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Old 10-03-2011, 01:06 PM
 
Location: Centennial, CO
156 posts, read 604,873 times
Reputation: 73
I will definitely make note of all of this! I'll let DH handle the mountain driving, haha.

Thanks again!
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Old 10-03-2011, 01:37 PM
 
9,816 posts, read 19,014,998 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sheridan1962 View Post
Thank you all so much for the advice. The back of our truck will have suitcases, ice chests, and a wheelchair in it, but we may still put sandbags in. We lived in Minnesota for 8 years, so we have experience driving in snow and ice, but just not in the mountains. Thanks again!
The thing I always go with for people not comfortable with it, it just watch the CDOT website for road conditions and the weather service for the forecast. CDOT has some nice webcams on I-70. If it's not clear and there is weather, save it for the next clear day.

The times I would avoid going west is Friday night. I used to call them the Friday Night Maniacs as everyone raced up to the ski resorts, tailgating and driving like crazy, even in bad weather. Saturday morning can also have back ups in different spots.

Time it so you cross the tunnel, Vail Pass and Glenwood Canyon during the day. Once you get past Glenwood Springs your likelihood for problems goes down.

I've never used chains on I-70. These days if it gets to that point where passenger vehicles need chains, the state will close the road.
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Old 10-03-2011, 02:11 PM
 
Location: Denver, CO
431 posts, read 832,819 times
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Even now the idiots are out in full force on the mountain roads. Coming down the long downhill into Denver I see people going well over 70mph, then they cook their brakes on the downhill. People must not notice all the signage that tells you to use a lower gear and keep it slow for several miles ahead. People generally seem to be impatient, selfish, and just downright stupid when it comes to theirs and other drivers' safety.
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Old 10-03-2011, 07:13 PM
 
1,375 posts, read 2,618,882 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dogmama50 View Post
CDOT does a great job maintaing I-70, but there are times when it shuts down due to accidents or very heavy snow.
I disagree. There are sections of I-70 that are very poorly maintained. For example, the west side of the tunnel. Maybe they do it on purpose to slow traffic, but there's always a few inches of muck on the road heading downhill towards Dillon. That doesn't stop the idiots in the left lane from going 60-70 mph down the hill, just waiting to spin out.
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