While caravans and campers are not allowed into high alpine parts of Australia during winter, snowfall is not uncommon in more accessible, lower-lying areas.
Use and carry snow chains
Alpine resorts often dictate when and if snow chains must be carried but, if there is any chance you’ll encounter snow on your lower altitude adventures, make sure you carry a set of snow chains for your vehicle at all times.
Snow chains are designed to give you extra traction in slippery conditions however, they look complicated and take some practice so make sure you know how to use them by following the instructions and practice in your driveway before leaving home.
Tip: Carry a pair of old weather- and waterproof gloves in the car for chain fitting. They’ll keep your hands warm when you’re out in the elements, and they’ll keep the grease off.
Hitting the snow or ice can be an experience as you will slip and slide a bit, but good quality off-road tyres with lots of tread will help. All-terrains will suffice but, the more aggressive the tread pattern, the better.
Tip: Lower your tyre pressures in the snow to further improve traction.
Stay in the tracks
Driving in the ruts of those who’ve gone before you is the best way to stay on course in snowy conditions, due to the snow being compacted. These hard-packed vehicle tracks will assist with traction and help directional control in deeper snow by guiding your wheels.
Tip: This idea of compacting snow for traction also works if you get a bit bogged. If you can’t get yourself out, back up and have another go. Each time you drive over the same spot, you’re compressing the snow and improving traction.
Carry recovery & emergency gear
Recovery and emergency gear are must-haves when travelling in these conditions. The weather can change in an instant in winter, especially at higher altitude.
At a minimum, a long-handled shovel and a set of Maxtrax are required. These will help get you out of many difficult situations. As far as emergency supplies go, make sure you’ve got plenty of warm, dry clothing, water, food and blankets for at least a few days.
Tip: Also consider travelling in convoy and carrying other recovery equipment such as winches, ropes, a sat-phones, radios and a personal locator beacon etc.
Check your fuel
High altitudes and low temperatures can wreak havoc with diesel vehicles. The fuel changes consistency at very low temps and will lead to your car not starting.
Many alpine areas sell ‘alpine diesel’ which can work for temperatures down to about -3 degrees – just make sure your tank is empty, or close to empty, when you fill up, or it will lose its effectiveness.
Another option is to add a special winter fuel additive to your tank of regular diesel. These are available from most service stations.
Tip: If you’re camping out overnight, park out of the wind and snow if possible, and throw a blanket over your vehicle’s engine.