The Alpine environment and road conditions are completely different to what you are used to and you need to do some planning and preparation.


THERE are plenty of horror stories around the fitting of snow chains, and some funny ones too, like the people seen driving through Omeo and Bright, still with the chains fitted to their car, making a terrible racket.

But, there’s occasions too where chains flip off while driving after being poorly fitted or can’t be fitted at all to expensive European or sports cars for a lack of clearance, leaving would be snow bunnies stranded en route.

The first rule of fitting snow chains, when you’re planning a trip to the snow, is hire them locally and try fitting them in your own driveway before you go so that, under the more extreme conditions of an Alpine storm, maybe in the dark, you know what to do.

It is a legal requirement that you hire or buy a set of “diamond pattern” wheel chains and have them in the car when you visit most of Victoria’s ski resorts. For the NSW resorts of Thredbo and Perisher (which we can’t go to now anyway unless you want to quarantine for two weeks on return to Victoria), owners of 4WDs don’t need to carry chains.

But don’t be concerned, it’s part of the adventure, and if you’re lucky you want have to fit them at all.

You will be directed when to fit your chains by a sign located beside a designated chain fitting bay but also use your common sense because conditions can change before the signs go up or come down.

If you see snow on the road and you think you need your chains, find a safe place to pull over and put them on. If the road is dry and clear, take them off.

It’s not a race to the top, take your time and enjoy the ride.

If you manage to drive to the top without needing your chains, check the weather report and consider fitting chains in the carpark for the drive home. It’s tough to fit chains after it snows as you have to dig your wheels out first.

Avoid ‘diesel freeze’

If you drive a diesel vehicle, you’ll need to fill up with a special ‘Winter mix’, also known as ‘Alpine Diesel’, which is sold in towns close to the resorts such as Omeo, Bright and Myrtleford.

Why do you need it? Well, the short, non-technical answer is that when temperatures drop below zero (Celsius), diesel can start turning into wax or gel. When that happens, you aren’t going anywhere! Your car won’t start or if it does, it will quickly stall, and you’ll have to wait till temperatures rise before you can get going again.

Petrol, on the other hand, doesn’t freeze till about -30 degrees.

Your other option is to use a diesel anti-gel cold weather additive such as Lucas Anti-Gel or Western Oil Icebreaker, which are usually sold at the same service stations that sell the winter diesel.

Local car parts outlets also sell diesel anti-freeze (ask the retailer for assistance in selecting the right product – you don’t want radiator anti-freeze for the fuel tank!

You’ll also want to check where to park and how much it costs.

Above all, drive to the conditions. Refrain from tailgating the car in front of you, and try not to hold up the traffic behind.

Try putting the chains on your car at home first before you travel to test your skills (but remember to take them off before you go!).

Even the experts can make a mistake so take care.