With no luggage allowance to worry about, and room to take all the basics you need for self-catering, driving to the French Alps is becoming an ever-more attractive option. However, driving on mountain roads in icy and snowy conditions is not for the faint hearted. Paul Lamarra passes on his top tips for a successful and safe drive in the mountains
1 Snow chains and snow tyres are a must. In heavy snow it is highly likely that the gendarmerie will establish a roadblock and inspect cars for snow tyres or chains. Anyone without them not only faces a fine but will also need to buy a pair from the police at an inflated price before being allowed to continue. Studded tyres are only suitable for locals who spend a lot of time driving on mountain roads. For the dos and don’ts of driving with snow chains click here
2 Carry a pair of heavy-duty gloves for fitting the chains, a shovel, a tow rope, a head-torch and extra clothes for keeping warm should traffic grind to a halt.
3 Tune into local radio stations for the latest forecast, and try to arrive in daylight if possible as it is far less intimidating. Radio France 107.7FM provides bilingual traffic information while www.auto routes.fr, www.bison-fute.gouv.fr, www.viamichelin.com are useful websites for road reports and www.meteo-france.fr is useful for weather reports.
4 Always to clear the car of snow before getting started. Windscreen wipers straining against snow have been known to fuse a vehicle’s electrics.
5 In the resort your car is unlikely to suffer ill-effects from being parked for a week in cold conditions. However, wipers can freeze to the glass and the rubber will detach from the arm when switched on, so lift them forward. Owners of diesel cars should start them occasionally to stop the diesel freezing.
6 Whenever driving in snowy and slippery conditions it is always a good idea to pull away in a high gear, keeping revs as low as possible. If the car does skid, steer into it, avoid using the brakes and then accelerate gently when the car straightens up.
Ever thought about getting the train to your ski resort? Relatively stress-free and relaxed it can deliver you to the mountains feeling refreshed and ready to go on the piste.