Winter in Alberta Canada, getting so much Snow on the Roads.
So Much Snow 2010-2011
Winter arrives early in Alberta and the snow begins. The snow started in mid November and has not given us much of a break since that time. I live in Okotoks Alberta, which is about 216 Km north of the Montana US/Alberta Canada border crossing (see a map Here). We are approximately 46 Km south of Calgary Alberta, so if you want to shop til you drop it's certainly nearby.
On top of all the snow in the winter the wind is another story, I don't know if this town is any better than Lethbridge which is known for its frequent wind days. There are some days where it will gently snow without gusts of wind knocking you off your feet. Then there are many more days where the wind gusts and blows snow and you can't tell if it is just being blown around from the ground up or if there is still fresh snow falling from the sky. I was born in Alberta but have never been a fan of snow or the frigid temperatures we can experience in the winter.
If you are a ski buff or a snowmobile fan this is the ideal place for you, there is usually snow on the ground for approximately six months. I'm not complaining, don't take me wrong, I used to live a couple of hours south of NWT, it got down to -40C plus for a couple of weeks straight in the months of January and February, Here is where I am talking about.
How cold is it when polar bears and penguins are knocking on your door to come in and get warm?? Welcome to Alberta..where the polar ice caps are Edmonton and Calgary ! I must say thanks to a friend for that one, won't put his name here just in case.
Snow Report Alberta
It's April 17th, 2011, it's -8 and still snowing outside, adding to the two feet of snow that we still have on the ground; this is getting ridiculous.
Winter Driving in Alberta
I must admit I am not a fan of winter driving, I don't even like driving all that much in the summer and as for Deerfoot Trail in Calgary, well forget that. I've been in two car accidents in my life, neither one of them was I the driver, but it was winter for sure and both times it was January. One time it was due to poor roads, black ice, we lost control and hit the center divider and the other time a Semi lost his brakes and rear ended us, in both accidents the vehicles were totaled.
Winter accidents have additional threats besides bodily injury, if you're stranded in a more remote area you stand a chance of freezing if the temperatures are low enough.Whether you are driving the winter roads in Alberta or anywhere else where it gets below freezing you need to make sure you always have the proper supplies with you in case of an emergency.
Anyone who has been in an accident and remained conscious will tell you, at least I will tell you, it all happens in slow motion. I vividly recall thinking exactly these words just before we hit the barrier, 'Oh my gosh, this is going to hurt'. As it turned out in that accident, yes we did total the vehicle but we both came away without any serious injury, only black seat belt bruises. Let me say though it was around -30C and the Van no longer ran and we waited for quite some time for a tow truck to show up.
We made a serious mistake there and I'm going to tell you not to make the same one we did. We thought okay, we are not hurt, no one is bleeding, we will just call a tow truck. Now keep in mind here we had hit the center cement barrier and moved it nearly a foot, the work van was shortened by about 5 inches or so we were told. It was a work van loaded with all kinds of tools but there was a barrier between the mechanical parts and us thank heavens. The parts and shelves were attached to the walls of the Van, but not after that hit, everything was everywhere, whatever was in the cab with us was strewn about and broken.
So fools that we are we thought well it's a bad night, there have been many accidents, the police are probably too busy to come out here, we were on the west Side of the town of Banff. It was cold, very cold, and we had two dogs with us as well and they were cold, we had to find a tow truck that would let us have the dogs in their vehicle. Not much mercy out there let me tell you, it's a good thing we had cell phones with us.
Call the Authorities
Do not risk your life and limb, call the Police and let them know you have had an accident and you are in the process of freezing on the snow covered mountain pass. It was nighttime when the accident took place, the road was very busy, traffic was whizzing by but not one person stopped to see if we needed assistance.
So if we had no cell phones we would have had to stand out there and try to wave someone down on the icy road in the dark? We did have our emergency flashers on, they were about the only thing left that worked, van did not start anymore... to tell the truth I was even scared to try to start it in case there was a fuel leak and we started on fire. So you silly fool you get to sit here and freeze, I am thinking to myself.
So the Tow Truck driver showed up, he did have an extended cab truck but it was such a dirty sty. He knew he was picking up two people, you would think he would have cleared away some of his garbage. It was not only garbage, there was mud and other unidentifiable items. Being thankful to have heat at least I said nothing, just hoping to the dread to be over, to be in out of the snow and to get truly warm again.
We discussed with the driver where we should pull the van to, we got all of that arranged by phone. It's around -30C with the wind chill and the tow truck driver says 'Once we drop off your van here at this closed service station you have to find other means of transport' The fee for him to pick up the van was around $400 and he could not drop us at a motel, wow. But hey, he had a friend he could call who would come and give us a ride for a fee, which was $60. Supposedly his friend worked for a taxi company but when the car showed up there was no taxi sign on the roof or the side of the vehicle?? We did not have much choice so we accepted this ride for the fee or we would be left in a closed service station parking lot with our two Greyhound dogs.
Oh yes the non taxi dude knew of a motel that would accept dogs so we would not be out freezing in the night. There was not even a coffee in the room, it was an actual motel but we were put in some back room that had been converted from a restaurant by the looks of it. We did not want to complain too much, I think we were a bit traumatized from the crash ordeal so we figured we would be quiet about the room so we would not be kicked out. You see we no longer had a vehicle and we were seriously stranded, left at the mercy of others.
The room was bitterly cold, perhaps 10C if you were far from the door, you could see outside around the door edges. Well we slept in our clothes and took all the blankets from both beds so we could kind of keep warm and yeah we told the girls to sleep up on that other crummy bed and covered them with their blankets.
On the bright side, the owner of the company my spouse works for showed up around 7am the next morning and we were gone.
Sad Story Aside, Your Safety
This van we were in, yes it was black ice but perhaps if we did not have all seasons on through the Banff pass it would not have happened. WINTER TIRES , I highly recommend them... Up until approximately 2 years ago I just used all seasons and thought that was something I just had to deal with. Yes, winter tires were always out there but I though well most people I know just use all season, should be okay.
I decided I had had enough of slipping around on the ice, I was going to try myself a set of snow tires, I bought winter rims and tires, sure it was not cheap but I think it was definitely worth it, I think it cost me a total of approximately $1100. Before having the snow tires I was kind of sliding into intersections.. no not because I am a tool driver, because there is so much ice on the roads here all winter. Envision driving your vehicle on a skating rink with a few pebbles strewn onto it, don't put too many pebbles down, that would give you far too much traction.
Get Snow Tires, it really does make a big difference . I was seriously skeptical before getting snow tires, I thought bah, 'I have survived this long without them, why should I need them now, all season does everything'. All season tires truly are made for all seasons as it says but this does not mean they work as good in the winter as an actual snow/ice tire does. Think with logic, if these all seasons worked as well in the winter would tire retailers continue to sell snow tires, would anyone buy them? Of course the answer would be no and no so there must be something more to it even if some all season tire ads or sales people claim that all seasons are perfectly acceptable, which they are by law in most places, they just don't give you nearly the same grip as a good snow tire.
One Example of the difference Snow Tires Make: Before changing over to Snow Tires for the winter in Alberta one strong memory I have is the amount of slide when stopping at intersections. I was going at most 40 km/h because I knew the roads were icy, I did apply the brake a bit sooner because of the road conditions and still I slid at least 3 feet into the intersection on more than one occasion. Since changing to snow tires in the winter I very seldom encounter this issue and always to a much smaller degree.
How cold is it?
Yesterday (January 16, 2010) I went to a gas station, to get gas obviously, I don't like my car to get below half a tank in the winter. That was a frigid adventure, I tried 3 pumps and none of them would work with my debit card, yes I have money in the account. About 4 swipes in it comes up and says air miles? I say no and it does nothing, I say yes and it refuses to go anywhere without an air miles card. I hit cancel on the air miles and it cancels the whole transaction so I'm back to the beginning and trying to start the swipe again.
I had just been in the store to buy lock de-icer because my gas cap lock was frozen and we could not get the key in, so my debit card for sure was fine. Did manage to get the gas cap off after the lock de-icer but never managed to get the fuel pump to start pumping. I could have went in the store and paid but my other half was irritated with the site and said let's go to another gas station.
We left the gas cap on the dash of the car to warm up and drove a half a block to another station. Behold the pumps there worked fine and I was able to pay at the pump. I had to have my gloves off the whole time to use the card and the keypads and holy smokes my hands were starting to hurt.
To sum it all up, not all gas pumps work so well when it's -30C with the wind chill.
Winter Driving Advice
This does not necessarily only happen in the winter, could happen in the summer too. As a matter of fact I was in Alberta when this happened to me, you would not think a Semi losing it's brakes on a hill wouldn't happen all too much (or at all) in the province of Alberta.
I was a passenger in a smaller pickup and we were on our way down the hill into the town of Peace River. There is a main bridge that crosses the Peace River, which is the name of the river in Peace River, coincidental right?
We were struck from behind by a Semi which had lost its brakes. In saying that you must always be aware of everything that is going on around you, not to say you should become paranoid, just use more caution on wet roads, winter roads, steep hills going both up and down.
Many people imagine themselves safe when climbing up the hills but the experienced driver will tell you there are as many dangers going up as there are going down. For example a person coming down towards you could lose control, you could lose traction on the steep incline and start sliding backward or just start sliding and perhaps not make the upcoming corner.
Practice Defensive Driving, not Offensive Driving.
Winter Driving Supplies
Winter Travel Kit
First Aid Kit
Matches or Lighter
First Aid Kits
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