Holiday travel tips for traversing Wyoming’s mountain passes

 

By IKE FREDREGILL

Wyoming’s wide open spaces appeal to many seeking escape from the hustle and bustle of city life, but there is a downside to the state’s magnificent viewscapes: winter travel.
With Thanksgiving mere days away, many are packing their cars for the long haul over the hill and through the woods to grandmother’s house.
If you’re lucky, grandmother lives in Albany County and you’ll be waking up to a majestic view of the aptly named Snowy Range’s snow-covered peaks Thursday morning. Before you do so, however, you’ll need to travel through one of several mountain passes leading into the Laramie Valley.
Currently, the only snow forecasted for the area isn’t slated to fall until Saturday, but with several snowstorms passing through Albany County in the last few weeks, it’s likely you’ll still need to traverse some frozen tundra before arriving.
As you pack that last pie in the trunk, scan these winter-driving tips to ensure you’re prepared for the unexpected.

Pack blankets, gloves, hats and hand warmers

Weather forecasts are wonderful tools for planning out a trip, but winter in Wyoming is famously unpredictable. Any sunny morning can quickly turn into a white-out blizzard, and on the flip side, I’ve seen blizzards disappear into sunny afternoons at the the drop of a hat.
Whatever the case, pack some extra blankets to keep warm, should you be caught in the worst. Your car’s heater may be the best in the world, but blizzards in Wyoming can last minutes or days, and it’s prudent to plan for the latter.
I keep a spare pair of gloves and a winter cap in my pickup, because on more than one occasion, a trip to the grocery store has turned into digging my truck out of a snowbank. Once your hands are cold and wet, you’ll need an hour by a roaring fire before you feel whole again.
Hand warmers are cheap additions to any winter weather kit and are a blessing when the snow soaks through your gloves.

Leave the cat, bring the kitty litter

Even the most experienced driver can fall prey to black ice, that nearly invisible sheen of frozen road created by wind and melting snow. I’ve landed myself in the ditch more times than I can count.
Four-wheel drive can only get you so far once your rear wheels have dug halfway to China. In cases like these, kitty litter, gravel or even road salt can help your vehicle get the purchase you need to get back on your way.
You can, of course, bring the cat, but I find they are terrible back-seat drivers and absolutely useless when it comes time to push the car out of the ditch.

Fill up the tank, but easy on the gas

You probably won’t see many turtles out on the road during the holiday season, but slow and steady still wins the race.
Even when the sun is shining, there is a possibility of hitting a patch of ice crossing a bridge or driving beneath one. While slower speeds won’t always keep your wheels from slipping, they will make rolling the vehicle less likely, and in the case of an impact, they could save your life.
Keep your gas tank full as gas stations are few and far between on the High Plains, but also, should you need to pull over and wait it out, you’ll want to keep that heater on.
If you find yourself sliding across the road, let off the gas peddle and pump the brakes. Slamming the brakes is a surefire way to transform any vehicle into an uncontrollable toboggan.

Wherever you travel this season, drive safe and if you find yourself in Laramie, stop by the Laramie Area Visitor Center, 210 E. Custer St. Our staff is a veritable cornucopia of Albany County knowledge, and we always love to hear your stories.