Updated September 2023
The early bird gets the fresh Whistler powder but the bird that speeds on a snowy highway is nothing but a dodo. Winter in Whistler is full of reasons to get excited but when it comes to winter driving conditions it’s all about being calm, cool and calculated.
“Most of the problems we have in this area come from vehicles not properly equipped with the right tires,” says Whistler RCMP Staff Sergeant Steve LeClair. “People driving the Sea to Sky Highway are required, at the very minimum, to have all-season tires that are mud and snow rated with 3.5mm of tread depth (legal requirements are in effect from October 1 to March 31, see the BC Government guidelines here). We really recommend vehicles use four true winter tires with the mountain snowflake symbol on them. Other than that we would really appreciate people take the extra time to get up here without speeding.”
Sergeant LeClair points out that crashing your car on the way to the ski hill is a terrible way to start a holiday so with that in mind we’ve amassed a list of safe winter driving tips to get you here in one piece. Take it easy out there, when the roads are snowy that also means there’s gonna be plenty of pow for everyone.
Winter Driving Tips
1. Install Winter Tires
Staff Sergeant LeClair already mentioned it but this one is worth driving home twice. If your car doesn’t have good winter tires you’re basically a liability to yourself and everyone else on the road. Tires marked with an M+S (Mud and Snow) are also legally acceptable but they don’t provide the same degree of performance as a mountain snowflake tire in winter conditions.
And don’t even start with the “it’s four-wheel drive” argument, without proper rubber that just means you’ll have four tires spinning out instead of two. Get real tires or take the bus.
2. Keep a Safe Following Distance
This is one you might not even think about until it is too late but it takes a vehicle a lot longer to stop on snowy, icy roads so ensure there is at least four seconds of time / space between your vehicle and the one in front of you.
3. Watch Your Speed
This is another no-brainer. For sure, you’re excited to get to Whistler and hit the hot tub with a cold refreshment but speed and slick roads do not mix. There are speed limit signs all over the place – pay attention and err on the side of caution. Think of the tortoise and the hare – slow and steady wins the race (and hits the hot tub first).
4. Use Passing Lanes for Passing
In British Columbia, when the highway has two lanes going in the same direction the right lane is for regular driving and the left one is for passing. DON’T drive in the left lane unless you are overtaking another vehicle. This rule is important because driving in the incorrect lane irritates other drivers and leads to unsafe actions like passing on the inside or following too closely. PASS ON LEFT, DRIVE ON RIGHT.
5. Know What to Expect
Mountain FM is the local Sea to Sky radio station and they have been the best source for road and weather conditions since forever. Seriously, no one does it better. Mountain FM features regular updates every twenty minutes and when conditions are extra gnarly they report all the problem areas in real time. Plus they’ll slip the newest Katy Perry song in there too, just to keep things cheery.
If you have a smartphone handy Drive BC has road conditions and incident reports for the entire province and are the quickest and most reliable with closure and conditions updates. Their mobile site is excellent.
6. Avoid Sudden Moves
Sudden braking or accelerating can cause skids and slides, so can sudden swerves. There is a Zen to good winter driving and it all hinges on great situational awareness and intelligent foresight. Basically, you need to be a road ninja who can foresee problems before they arise and take action before it’s too late.
7. Stay Clear of Snowplows
Snowplows make the roads safer but they are also giant beasts of metal with huge blades on the front. Try not to get too close to them and NEVER pass a snowplow on the right-hand side because that is the direction they throw the snow.
Some plows also shoot out a weird de-icing liquid out the back which is probably not awesome for your paint job (or health). If you can read the giant sign that says “Don’t Follow Too Closely” that means you’re probably following too closely. Ease up, Bud.
The Sea to Sky roads are generally very well-maintained but Mother Nature doesn’t always play by the rules and when she unleashes a big storm it’s important to be as safe as possible. These tips will help but the real work is up to you.
More Winter Driving Tips and Resources
Find Whistler Weather and Road Conditions
Whistler.com also has a great road conditions page with Highway 99 webcams and current local conditions courtesy of Drive BC, and it’s always a great idea to check the Whistler weather forecast and webcams for the bigger picture.
Alternatives to Driving
If you don’t have a suitable vehicle or prefer not to drive, there are a ton of transport options from shuttles to private vehicles with experienced drivers to get you up here. You definitely don’t need a car once you arrive in Whistler and the best thing about having someone else pilot the vehicle? You get to enjoy the views (trust us – the Sea to Sky Highway is much more than a pretty name). Learn more about the different ways to get to the mountains at Whistler.com.
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