Bill Sniffin: Who Better To Give Safe Winter Driving Advice Than Me!

Columnist Bill Sniffin writes, “Our family’s first winter trip over Interstate 80 was in 1971. We were stopped on an icy hill behind another car. It was an awful blizzard. My wife Nancy started to panic. ‘We are sliding backwards!’ she yelled.”

Bill Sniffin

December 02, 20236 min read

Bill Sniffin lots of snow 1 16 23
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Despite the good-natured fun that’s been poked at me by the editors of Cowboy State Daily, my driving record has been sterling. Who better than me to write about safe driving habits in Wyoming’s winter, right?

So, with the help of some friends, here are some tips for driving on Wyoming winter roads (plus some interesting stories):

My first rule is to be a chicken. Slow down! Jake Nichols of Jackson offers this tip for driving in the winter: “If you rarely drive on snow, just pretend you're taking your grandma to church. There's a platter of biscuits and two gallons of sweet tea in glass jars in the back seat.” That is good advice.

Also, here in Wyoming, I generally avoid Interstate 80 in the winter. Matt Childers of Riverton was more emphatic: “Just don’t drive that road ever, ever in winter. Please take highway 30 always!” 

Melissa Vette-Denton of Lander says: “I’m still recovering from traveling to and from Laramie last February for winter club state swim meet. Holy hellfire.”

Hellish Interstate 80 Winter Trip

Our family’s first trip over Interstate 80 was in the winter of 1971 and we were stopped on a hill behind another car. The highway had been closed behind us. It was an awful blizzard. My wife Nancy started to panic. “We are sliding backwards!” she yelled. I thought so, too. The car ahead of us was gradually disappearing into the fog of the blinding snow. Yet my car was in park. What the hell? I actually opened the car door and put my foot out to touch the highway to prove that we were standing still. It was just the car ahead of us slowly moving away. What a scary moment.

Dave Simpson of Cheyenne shared a similar story: “I once attended a winter survival course. A Highway Patrol officer talked about winter driving. He related a time west of Laramie on Interstate 80 when a couple was driving west into high winds, and the snow was hitting the windshield so hard that it looked like they were driving at highway speeds. In reality, they were going slower and slower, finally just creeping along. ‘You should have seen the look on the guy’s face,’ the trooper said, ‘when I walked up to the driver side window and knocked on it.’”

Here is some great winter driving advice from Cheyenne-based automotive writer Aaron Turpen: “My most basic and fundamental rule for driving, winter or not, is simple: Assume everyone else driving is a complete idiot. It's worked in my favor so far. Which, by correlation, means that I am obviously not an idiot. So, if you see me, you know I'm the only other driver on the road that isn't an idiot.”

Barbara Parsons of Rawlins knows a bit about driving Wyoming roads in winter. She says: “Stay off the highways where trucks are. Some are good drivers, some not. I am 85 and I still drive. As long as I can see, I’m fine. You can adjust speed but, stay off the highways when the visibility is limited.”

Michelle Motherway of Lander described unique winter driving events she experienced: “Never in all my years had I heard of a snow squall. Well, they exist and make blowing snow look like a clear day! Along with the squall comes loads of electricity so every time you would touch the window you would get shocked. Very scary but we made it alive! The other one is on a bright clear day when the road was closed at Muddy Gap! I talked to a plow driver asking when it would be open? He casually stated he hoped Monday (this was a Thursday).”

Ric Samulski described a harrowing trip from Jackson to Pinedale: “My wife and I owned the weekly newspaper in Pinedale. Every Wednesday evening, for 15 years, we drove press ready negatives up and back through Hoback Canyon to have that week's edition printed.

“One winter night in 1979, I was driving back to Pinedale with a truck load of newspapers. Suddenly I was confronted by a wall of snow. An avalanche had blocked the canyon. I stopped my truck and walked across about 50 feet of snow.

“On the other side was an equally frustrated driver who was headed to Jackson. It was Bob Kidd. I explained the situation to him. ‘Hell,’ he said. ‘I can't get to Jackson anyway so I'll help you.’

“Together Bob and I carried 2,500 copies of The Pinedale Roundup in cardboard boxes across the avalanche and loaded them in his pickup. I left my pickup on the Jackson side of the avalanche and got into Bob's truck and we hauled the paper to Pinedale. Our newspaper hit the streets as usual on Thursday morning. Thanks Bob!”

Midwest Conditions Were Awful

Having grown up in the Midwest, winter driving was different there. It required a somewhat different style of winter driving skills than out here in the Rocky Mountains.

As a photographer there is a condition where you shoot photos in light called “cloudy bright,” which means sunny but overcast. Typical winter weather back there was cloudy dull. The overcast was so gray and heavy, you literally could not locate where the sun was in the sky above you.

Plus, it was cold and humid and windy. Driving permanently ice-covered roads in those conditions was awful. Because there was so little sunshine, the ruts in the ice sometimes disappeared and you were careening along almost totally out of control. I prefer Wyoming’s sunshine, blue skies, and low humidity.

Karl Brauneis of Lander offers: “My thought on survival is defensive driving. Hundreds of miles of open road and yet newcomers and visitors will try to tail gate you as close as possible. I do whatever is safe to help get them around me. I slow down and pull to the side with my signal on but often this is braking fast when they pass on double yellow or on a blind view.

“In recent years we have alleviated at least four head-on collisions. Most of the folks are from Utah or Colorado. In light of this, my advice is: Relax, you’re in Wyoming - just relax. I mean what's the goal? Why did you want to come here in the first place?”

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Bill Sniffin

Wyoming Life Columnist

Columnist, author, and journalist Bill Sniffin writes about Wyoming life on Cowboy State Daily -- the state's most-read news publication.