Make sure you are properly prepared so you get to the skifield in one piece

Snow can be beautiful but is a natural enemy of the car. It's dangerous enough at the best of times and those who rarely drive on it, or where there might be black ice, should exercise extra caution.

Controlling a car on snow or ice is very different to driving on gravel - but the dangers are similar. Sudden changes in direction, taking off too fast, excessive speeding or sudden stops can easily go very wrong.

Expect the unexpected is perhaps the best piece of advice - and drive very, very smoothly.
If you're hiring a car, try to get as familiar as possible with its controls and behaviour before you have to drive on snow. It is also worthwhile checking whether the contract allows you to put on snow chains and, if so, whether the rental company can supply them and demonstrate fitting them. Despite popular opinion, one chain does not fit all so make sure you've got the right ones.

They should always be fitted to the driving wheels - on a front-wheel-drive car they go at the front. If you're in a 4WD that can be locked into 4WD mode then chains can be fitted all round.


When fitted, chains should be firm but not tight, and after a short drive, it is a good idea to check that they've stayed put.

Make sure there's a nice warm pair of gloves in the boot before you leave home - fitting chains at zero degrees is far from pleasant.

Anyone who doesn't drive in snow often should definitely practise somewhere away from people and expensive European SUVs. And if you're a novice in the white stuff keep the speed below 25km/h.

And it is well worth noting that being in an all-wheel drive doesn't mean you can go any faster - the same amount of care is required.

Black ice is another great equaliser - the loss of control can be so quick, you could easily be sliding off the road before you even know it is there. Drive slowly around areas where black ice is common - such as lakes and shaded areas. It can sometimes be seen as a shimmering, watery-looking black patch but it is often invisible.

School trip
Some manufacturers - including Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW - offer snow-driving courses to customers. This is a great way to learn your limits and how to stay safe. Mercedes-Benz instructor Peter Hackett says it's an excellent way to understand how a vehicle behaves on snow and ice. "And it's really, really good fun - people often forget how much fun you can have in cars."

Quick tips

Always expect the unexpected.

Drive with your lights on.

Overconfidence can end in tears.

Leave a larger-than-normal gap ahead of you.

If you go into a slide, take your foot off the accelerator and turn in the direction of the skid.

Don't make sudden steering movements.

It's a good idea to have a small shovel and gloves in the boot.

Warm the engine before setting off.

Turn air-con on to clear the windscreen and dry the interior.

Information services such as AA Roadwatch and Transit NZ are the best places to update yourself on road conditions.

If the weather is extreme, delay travel and stay indoors.

Be careful out there.