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Old 11-23-2012, 03:13 PM
11,256 posts, read 43,149,672 times
Reputation: 14903


I commuted between Denver metro area and the ski country (Aspen, later Vail) starting in the 1960's, with a '64 RWD Ford Custom 500. Even with the poorer rubber compounds and the snow tires of that era, I only had 3 times in many years when I felt justified in using the chains I had carried for years. With my trips encompassing travels for recreation and business calls, I've got over 2,000 round-trips ... starting from before I-70 was completed to many on the later road through Glenwood Canyon and then on to Aspen. Never went off the road, never had an accident.

Replaced that car with a 1970 MB 220D, again a RWD car but with heavier bias to the rear with the engine braking available. Was very thankful that Gislaved Frost hydrophyllic tires came into the USA, and equipped this car and my 1972 2002 BMW with these tires. In many years of commuting to Vail from Denver, I never needed to use the cable chains I had for these cars, and that included visits to friends up in the side roads above Evergreen and Conifer who sometimes couldn't get up their driveways with their Saab cars. I also drove a number of 280SE M-B's for those winter commutes; I even had a customer that used a 1972 280SEL 4.5 to commute from SE Denver to his 2nd home in West Vail who was able to do so without ever using chains. He was able to do the trip more reliably than another friend with a condo in Dillon who used everything from a Ford Bronco to a Jeep to an IHC Scout (all 4x4's) before we were able to educate him about the inherent difficulties of these off-road 4x4 systems on ice ... he's now been using a Honda Accord (been through several now, through the years) to commute every week to Dillon from the Denver metro area.

I had more than one trip going over the Eisenhower tunnel area where my 220D walked past many cars that were slipping and sliding around, unable to make steady progress, if any, up the hill, even with a 4x4 vehicle. The folk I passed where less than thrilled to see me pass them, and I got flipped off numerous times through the years because they apparently couldn't understand how a RWD vehicle could attain and maintain traction on the same road that they couldn't.

I got to drive a number of FWD cars on the same commute, and I was impressed at how much easier they were to drive in those conditions. After a number of trips in Audi's and Saab's, I bought an AWD Audi 4000CSQuattro, and the capabilities of this car on the slick surfaces was phenomenal compared to the RWD cars. Drove that for years, then switched to a Subaru '95 Wagon when the Audi finally rusted out with over 300,000 miles on it. Have now gone through several Subie's, now we drive a 2000 and a 2001 OBW Limited and wouldn't go back to a non-AWD car for the adverse conditions that present in the high country. I only need All-Season tires with these cars, which goes a long way toward preserving tire life and fuel economy compared to dedicated snow tires (I still have Nokian Hakkapellita's on a 2nd set of rims on my '72 BMW 2002, an excellent winter tire ... but I don't drive this car very much anymore in the winter). But do keep this in perspective ... I'm a manufacturer's rep since 1999, and I must travel throughout the Rocky Mountain region for business as well as my pleasure travels ... so I put on a lot more miles than average drivers do in the area; 5,000 miles/month is not uncommon for me, and that includes winter time driving, too.

I'd add that I recently bought a 1993 Dodge B3500 conversion van for my sales travels September 2011, and I had only a set of Michelin All-Season tires on it and reliably traveled my territory with it ... didn't even carry chains last winter, although I just found one of my cable chain sets in the garage that fit this rig and I will carry them this winter. But I didn't need them at all last winter, and was out on the roads in all but the very worst of conditions. Slower speeds, such as driving only 45-ish on I-25 heading south from Casper after a major storm passage that had many vehicles taking off-highway excursions until I was almost to Chugwater ... even when the semi's were back up to 65-70 mph just outside of Casper ... was the key to managing the conditions. When condition improved, I was back up to 65 mph (which is all I normally drive this vehicle in clear conditions).

IMO, you can reliably drive a FWD vehicle into the Front Range winter skiing conditions in all but the very worst of travel conditions. For the most part, the CHP does close the roads these days when conditions are nowhere near as bad as they used to allow traffic to continue. With a prudent watch on the weather, road and traffic conditions, a good set of non-studded hydrophyllic tires will suffice for you. If you're really concerned about getting through in the worst of conditions, an AWD car that does well on ice ... Audi and Subie are my favorites, but MB, BMW, Volvo, and others make capable AWD cars, too ... then you'll need to consider an AWD vehicle instead of your FWD only. But before making that investment, I'd suggest you go through a winter or two with what you've got and see if it doesn'e perform adequately for your needs; of course, a set of high quality winter tires would be a desireable feature for the winter months. A set of cable chains, perhaps, might bring you peace of mind, too ... just to have them along for the time that you deem them needed. Given the road maintenance, the traffic and weather patterns to be seen this winter, you may yet find that your vehicle is quite adequate for your travels into the high country. As mentioned above by others, the most common driving situations you'll encounter in the Colorado high country will be slush, packed snow, or minimal thickness loose snow ... or the black ice that forms when the snow is melted and refrozen, then polished by the passing of other vehicles. All will depend upon the moisture patterns, temperatures, and sunshine that hit the road this winter. Some winters will present very few days of difficult driving.

Do your due diligence before heading out into the hills for a trip. If there's a major storm passage at the time, consider that driving and ski slope conditions may be less than a pleasure for that weekend and stay in Denver.

PS: I've done enough skiing by braille through the years to know that it's not my cup of tea. If it hadn't been for already being up in the high country and having a season ski pass, I most certainly would not have headed up the hill for those conditions and on those really nasty roads to get there.

Last edited by sunsprit; 11-23-2012 at 03:21 PM..
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Old 11-25-2012, 06:40 PM
2,253 posts, read 6,016,268 times
Reputation: 2620
Wink Toyota Highlander in snow

Your FWD Toyota Highlander will be fine in snow.

At a minimum you could run all-season tires, but dedicated winter tires would be preferable since in the mountains and more likelihood of snow on ski trips. Studded winter tires cover all bases, but their advantage is only on ice; that is seldom a factor in Colorado compared to other regions of this country, and among other negatives is the constant noise (save on snow).

So some compromises are in order, since more often the roads are mostly dry, even in the mountains. Having a good AWD vehicle would obviously be preferable. FWD will get one there, only it is just easier with AWD, and to a degree that much safer, all else being equal. Either way, with the skill of the driver, first and foremost, paramount.

A close second to the quality of the driver is that of equipment. Within all-season and winter tires there is a variance in capability, and with something like this it pays to get the best. Vehicles such as the Highlander with a high center of gravity are not ideal in snow. Popular in Colorado, no doubt, but not as practical as the Subarus one sees so many of (and for a reason). Because they have a lower center of gravity, enough ground clearance for most road conditions, and a good AWD system. One could spend more for an Audi with a similarly good AWD system and be happy, although money alone is no guarantee in such things. As with tires, vehicles, their dynamics and respective AWD or 4x4 systems will vary in capability, irrespective of pre-conceived ideas or marketing.

But that can be academic for now. Four good winter tires on the Highlander will suffice. Aside from the usual winter survival gear, do carry a set of chains: they may never be needed—and on passenger vehicles in Colorado seldom are—but quite nice to have if weather conditions suddenly change towards truly nasty, catching one out.

And, as also said, sometimes the best driving position, if truly adverse weather, is from the coach with the remote.
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Old 11-25-2012, 10:00 PM
Location: Western Colorado
41 posts, read 115,933 times
Reputation: 116
I grew up in Denver, and I was able to get up to the ski slopes in my front wheel drive Accord just fine on most days. That was without snow tires. With snow tires (and especially with chains!) you should be just fine so long as you drive sensibly (read: slowly). The highways getting to the ski areas are well maintained, and even in the worst conditions you should be able to make it, even though things might get hairy from time to time.
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Old 11-25-2012, 11:11 PM
Location: Broomfield, CO
22 posts, read 46,090 times
Reputation: 40
Thank you all for your constructive feedback and in some cases, lengthy and detailed advice; very much appreciated.

My initial reference to studded tires was a lack of knowledge in my case, mixed with only prior experience to East Coast winters. I'm comfortable with the idea of non-studded winter tires.

It seems as though the best bet is to experience this winter before jumping the gun. I'll probably go ahead and grab a good pair of snow tires (have been reading about Blizzaks and Michelin Latitude X-Ice XI2) and carry some chains for peace of mind.

The only thing I have not heard debated is the strength of a Subaru. Perhaps when the time is right, I'll look into this as my next vehicle.

Thanks again for all of your excellent suggestions!

Last edited by MadeItToColorado; 11-25-2012 at 11:14 PM.. Reason: Structure
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