Sponsored by The Roof Box Company

Avoid the potential hassles of public transport, take an extra day, and drive to the Alps this winter?

Ski drive may see a significant increase this season, what with the extra hassles associated with airline travel, and the Eurostar ski train service cancelled. 

If you’re an enthusiastic and confident driver, with a car you can rely on and, even better, with a confident second driver, then you should at least think about driving to the Alps.  It can and should be a fun and relaxing way to travel, especially if you give yourself an extra day to get to your resort, and it also often works out to be a lot cheaper than flying, depending on when you’re travelling, and whether you’ve booked your flight early or late. 

Many families travel by car so they can take advantage of significantly cheaper accommodation in towns or villages outside the main resort.  Others might use their car to ski at neighbouring resorts with better snow. 

Some planning is important

Perhaps needless to say, you need to do much more planning than you’d do for a UK winter journey.  Make sure that your car has been recently serviced and is ready for cold weather, check out the AA or RAC websites to see what equipment and paperwork you need to carry and do some basic route planning, ideally finding somewhere interesting to stay that will give you a good chance of getting to your resort on the following morning.

The majority of the journey will be on motorways and dual carriageways, but many drivers are understandably nervous about the final leg of the journey, which means driving on snow if you’re lucky and there is fresh snowfall!  Ideally, you’ll be driving the last leg in daylight. 

AutoSock and snow chains

If you are using winter tyres then your journey will be much easier in snowy weather, and you may get away without needing to fit AutoSock or snow chains, but these still need to be carried.  Even 4x4s on winter tyres need to fit AutoSock or snowchains where their use is required by law.

AutoSock are pulled over the vehicle’s driving wheels, are held in place with elastic, and use specially developed textiles to maximise the available friction; they give extraordinary grip on ice and snow.  There is a new European standard for ‘winter traction devices’, also adopted by Switzerland, which comes into force on 1st December 2020.  If a traction product meets the required standards for safety, quality and performance, it is permitted.  AutoSock, who developed the tyre sock concept, is approved, and most metal and plastic snow chains will also be approved. 

So, should ski-drivers carry snow chains or AutoSock, or both?  The Roof Box Company’s advice is that there is logic in taking both options, but if you only want to choose one option, choose snowchains.  AutoSock (which are distributed in the UK and Ireland by The Roof Box Company) are very easy and obvious to fit, compared to most snowchains, and they work much better than chains on wet snow and in very cold powder snow.  On the other hand, being textile, they are very vulnerable to damage if used on rutted, icy roads.  Another reason for having two options is that there may be situations where it makes sense to fit an anti-slip system to the non-driving wheels – this is especially true for rear-wheel drive vehicles where it’s always sensible to make sure that the steering wheels have good grip! 

You need to know how to fit snowchains, and you should practise before you leave home.  The first reason is to check that the chains you have ordered actually go around your driving wheels - some cars have different sized front and rear tyres – and that there’s enough space in the wheel arch to fit them. 

There are some basic procedures for choosing snow chains.  First of all, identify your driving wheels, noting the tyre size from the tyre wall (not from the handbook!) and also check your handbook to see what it says about using snow chains.  If the instruction is “Don’t use”, this is almost certainly aimed at the traditional diamond pattern chains that are fitted around both sides of the tyre.  Don’t panic – ‘ladder track chains’ are designed so that there is no chain on the inside of the wheel where space is tight.  Next, check whether you can get your forearms into the space between the top of the wheel and the wheel arch.  If you can’t then you should only look for chains which are fitted from the outside of the wheels.  The Roof Box Company stocks a range of ladder track chains which can be fitted in almost all situations - König K-Summit, Polaire GRIP, Polaire Steel GRIP, Spikes-Spider ALPINE Pro, Spikes-Spider SPORT. 

If there is space to work inside the wheel arch then you’ll find a very wide range of choices and brands.  There’s a premium for self-tensioning snow chains – these have tightening devices so you won’t have to stop again to tighten them, which is what you’d normally need to do after going only about 10 metres.  Some models provide protection to prevent alloy rims being scratched.  Generally, the more expensive chains will be quicker and easier to fit and to remove. 

AutoSock can be fitted to all vehicles if you can get your forearms inside the wheel arch. 

You need two hands for fitting AutoSock or snow chains, and if it’s dark you’ll need a torch; a head torch is strongly recommended!  

Roof boxes and ski carriers 

A roof box will almost certainly make the journey more comfortable, even if you’re not carrying skis or boards, allowing you to spread out the luggage.  You will want a roof box that is strong and secure – The Roof Box Company particularly recommends any that are made by Hapro, INNO, KAMEI, or Thule. 

If you ski regularly and have your own gear then you’ll save a lot of rental costs over the years, and if you drive you’ll save the hassle and costs of taking these on the plane.  If the car boot is full of luggage, with the AutoSock and snow chains easily accessible, it makes sense to put boards, skis, boots, and helmets into a roof box, or at least to put the ski and boards onto a roof-mounted ski rack.  There are also tow bar mounted ski and board carriers, ideal for shorter journeys, less suitable for long-distance driving if the ski tips are higher than the roof line. 

Finally, it’s worth noting that any gear you buy specifically for a ski drive trip is very likely to be a good investment for use in the UK as well, especially the AutoSock – it’s good to know that you can get going again safely if you start skidding on snow - and perhaps even the snow chains! 

Please visit www.roofbox.co.uk for more information.  

Don’t forget to use your Ski Club discount!