Mountain Safety on the Road

Winter Driving

Driving on snow and ice is very different to driving on dry or even wet roads, especially if you are not familiar with these sorts of conditions. This information contains tips and will help you to stay safe when driving in winter conditions.

Plan your journey!

Check current road conditions, always choose safety over convenience when selecting your route.

Always dress for the conditions – carry warm clothes in case you get stuck or break down. For longer trips you should always keep food and water in your vehicle. And last but not least ALWAYS carry the appropriate sized chains for your vehicle, and know how to fit them!

Ensure that your car is roadworthy – check the brakes, wiper blades, battery, tyre pressures and tread. Make sure all indicators and lights are working.

If you are driving a recreational 4WD this winter:

Drive with care - recreational 4WD’s are no safer in winter conditions than any other vehicle.

Take corners with care. Most 4WD’s have a higher centre of gravity are more prone to roll whilst cornering.

Make sure you always wear a safety belt. All passengers must wear a safety belt under New Zealand law.

Always keep an eye out for vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. If they are struck by a 4WD the risk of them suffering serious injuries is far higher.

Other important things to remember...

If carrying heavy items inside your vehicle make sure you store them behind a cargo barrier. This will help prevent items from becoming lethal flying missiles if you brake suddenly. Only store light items on the roof rack.

Increase your following distance – it may take longer to stop than in a smaller car.

Drive defensively. A higher centre of gravity makes recreational 4WD’s harder to control if the driver has to make sudden swerving or evasive manoeuvres.

Rain, snow or fog will reduce your ability to see and be seen. Drive with your lights on dip in these conditions.

Use your vehicle demister or air conditioning to keep windows clear at all times.

Where possible, carry something in your car to cover your windscreen on frosty nights (such as a towel or newspaper). Alternatively, use an ice scraper or cold water to clear your windscreen of ice.

Watch for…

Shaded areas such as high banks, tall trees and road cutting where ice may remain all day.

Bridges, which may stay slippery longer than other road surfaces.

Around daybreak when frost tends to become more severe. If it is not frosty at 6am it could well be an hour to two later.

The harsh glare from low winter sunlight.

Staying out of winter driving trouble…

Slow right down! It only takes a split second to lose control of your vehicle in wet or icy conditions.

Avoid sudden movements – accelerate smoothly and brake gently.

Keep engine revs down – travel up hill in the highest gear possible; downhill in the lowest.

To emergency brake in a vehicle that is not fitted with an anti-skid braking system, pump the brake pedal in short rapid bursts rather than pressing long and hard.

In the event of an emergency phone 111.

While waiting for help…

Keep yourself and your vehicle visible.

Where possible ensure your vehicle is not a hazard to other drivers.

Stay warm.

If you are involved in a crash tell the police even if no one is injured – this information helps build an accurate picture of ‘crash black spots’, and obtain funding to fix them.

24-hour breakdown services

AA - 0800 224 357

24-Hour Road Closure Information

AA Highway Reports -0900 33 222 Calls cost $1.00 per minute.

Chain Controls

Use chains on very slippery surfaces for extra traction and whenever indicated by signs on the road.

You can also lower your tyre pressure to spread the tread for extra traction - do not go below 20psi with tubeless tyres, and remember to pump them up again before heading onto the highway.

You must stop and put on chains when indicated on the ski area access roads.

Chains must be installed on the drive wheels - make sure you know if your vehicle is front or rear wheel drive.

When you put on chains, make sure you are completely off of the roadway to the left. Do not stop in a traffic lane where you will endanger yourself and block traffic.

When removing chains, drive to a pull-off area where you can safely remove them.

Always check out the snow report each day for the present road conditions - it will tell you where chains are required to be fitted.

The following information may help make your mountain driving safe and pleasant...

Driving Tips

Allow enough time. Get an early start and allow plenty of time to reach the ski area as a trip up the mountain can sometimes take longer than you might expect, especially if you encounter icy roads.

Keep your petrol tank full, just in case.

Slow down! Adjust your speed to the conditions and drive with consideration on mountain roads. The open road speed may be safe in dry weather but an invitation for trouble on snow and ice.

Snow and ice make stopping distances much longer, so leave more distance between your vehicle and the vehicle in front. Shady spots can be icy when other areas are not. Remember to avoid sudden stops and quick direction changes. Avoid using the brakes on ice or hard-packed snow, particularly when heading downhill because of the risk of skidding - use low gears and engine braking to slow the vehicle and keep the car under control.

In fresh snow drive just to the side of other tyre marks - its less slippery

It is also a good idea to take along extra clothing, warm blankets, first aid kit, food/drink; shovel and recovery rope/strap with shackles in case you get stuck. A lengthy delay will make you glad you have them.

Be more observant. Visibility is often limited in winter by weather conditions. Slow down and watch for other vehicles such as slow-moving vehicles/equipment that have flashing lights.

As with any vehicle, always wear a well-adjusted seat belt. Wearing a seat belt is the best way to protect your neck and spine, and keep you in the vehicle. You can be fined in New Zealand for not wearing your seatbelt whilst driving.

When starting your engine in snow or icy conditions make sure that you use longer bursts from the starter and pause between bursts for longer. Move off slowly, in second gear if possible and don't spin your wheels as this will reduce your traction even further.

When driving in icy conditions or surface flooding, slow down and don't change speed or direction suddenly. In poor visibility switch on your headlights to low beam and use your windscreen wipers regularly.

Avis & Budget Car Rental Bookings

Start your Car Rental booking with us

Air New Zealand

We will help you find lowest fares to the snow, see them now.


Get qualified with QRC based here in Queenstown.

More about mypass

Use mypass like eftpos to pay for food, beverages, products and passes on our mountains.
Find out more...

Get yours now!

An NZSki season pass offers great value and convenience if you plan to spend a lot of time on the slopes this winter.

NZSki News

Upcoming Events