Driving to Big Bear Lake at New Year in a Prius
October 4, 2019 10:57 AM   Subscribe

Assuming the normal range of conditions, can you drive from Los Angeles to Big Bear Lake around New Year in a regular city vehicle like a Prius? What's the likelihood you'd need to use chains? What are the chances the conditions will make it unwise or impossible?
posted by caek to Travel & Transportation around Big Bear Lake, CA (10 answers total)
 
Always take chains. You may not need them, but it's entirely possible you could drive in without them and find yourself required to have them to get out. The weather and road conditions can change very quickly at that altitude. It's perfectly possible to make the trip in a Prius; I've done it.

That said, always get current information on weather and road conditions before setting out. And get local information when you arrive, don't trust a general weather report. Lack of good weather information is what trapped the Donner party. Don't let that happen to you.
posted by SPrintF at 12:26 PM on October 4, 2019


Seconding that I have done this in a Prius but you absolutely have to take chains.
posted by synchronia at 12:32 PM on October 4, 2019


Just to be clear, I know you have to take chains. I'm asking about the likelihood of needing to use them (and how often they will be insufficient in a dinky car like a Prius).
posted by caek at 12:39 PM on October 4, 2019


How good is the heater? Make sure to dress warm. Bring a sleeping bag for the car.

{My nephew drove a hybrid in Denver for a couple winters and hated it.}
posted by Bee'sWing at 1:56 PM on October 4, 2019


Strong likelihood that you won’t need the chains and will be perfectly fine without them. And if you do need them and you have them, they’ll be fine and you’ll be fine.
posted by The World Famous at 1:56 PM on October 4, 2019 [1 favorite]


Hi. I spent 2 years living in Big Bear with a once-a-week commute to/from Los Angeles, while driving a Honda CRX. So I know about this!

-- First, yes, have chains.
-- It's highly unlikely that you will have to use them, however.
-- If you do have to use them, they will totally work for a dinky car like a Prius, says the person who drove with chains on an even dinkier CRX.
-- If chains are required, you will find a veritable army of people who want $20 or so and then will put them on your car for you, easy peasy. Ranging from legit people who are subcontractors with the CHP (along the highway, if you're coming up from the city) to any old dude hanging out on a corner (if you're in Big Bear).
-- This is a heavily traveled stretch of road, particularly by city folk who are unaccustomned to snowy mountain driving. Which means both that it's a high priority to get this road plowed, and also that they'll just go ahead and close it if the conditions get too bad.
-- In my two years of living there, the worst storms with the biggest chance of road closures tended to be in the late winter moving into very early spring, not right at the New Year.

So bring the chains, and have a grand time!
posted by BlahLaLa at 3:40 PM on October 4, 2019 [1 favorite]


Keep in mind that Priuses have *really aggressive traction control* that can effectively stop the car if the wheels begin to spin while accelerating. Like, mine struggled to get up a hill on a gravel road. There are ways to defeat traction control, but they require entering the car's version of the Konami Code. I'd recommend writing this code down (I think it differs based on the year of Prius, but it's easy enough to find on Youtube) and checking the owner's manual to verify that chains are safe to use in conjunction with the built-in traction control.
posted by seiryuu at 3:48 PM on October 4, 2019


Prius owner here, I've negotiated snow and ice in my prius that was sidelining large 4x4 type vehicles because I was careful and had chains. I've never gotten stuck unless the snow was so deep that it was high-centering the car.

get GOOD chains, not those godawful cable chain things, and practice putting them on a couple times before you have to do it in the snow. I keep a couple pairs of those crappy rubber dipped work gloves in the car to chain up with. they protect your hands and are pretty grippy, but also have good dexterity and dry out fast.

Always check the weather and highway conditions before going and keep a blanket, non-perishable snacks and a couple bottles of water in the car. Don't let the car go below 1/4 of a tank before filling, you can get through a major traffic jam that closes a highway for hours or a whiteout blizzard that sidelines the car in relative comfort if you have enough gas to start the car and warm up the heater occasionally.
posted by Dr. Twist at 4:12 PM on October 4, 2019


I have done this in a Yaris in early February. We had chains but did not need them.

Consider bringing some water and snacks in the incredibly unlikely event you end up stuck in a blizzard for a while.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 6:06 PM on October 4, 2019


I routinely drive a Toyota Corolla up and down Highway 330 to Big Bear in the winter. You can also go up Highway 18 depending on where you’re coming from and the weather. It’s usually fine but not always, very weather dependent and you must be prepared to put on chains or deal with ice at any time. The weather forecast at that time of year is not very predictable this far in advance and varies year to year (thanks Southern California!) and based on time of day.

Anecdotally, I’ve had to put chains on less than 1 mile up Hwy 330 in December due to heavy snow, but I’ve also driven up when the road’s been dry in January. It all depends on the weather.

Also, it’s very easy to get going too fast with chains (or no chains!) on that road, especially in a small/lightweight car. Remember to drive less than 25 with chains and pull over in turnouts to let faster cars by.

Like others said, pack work gloves, warm clothing/blankets, water, and some food. But all the ways to Big Bear are highly used highways with a lot of inexperienced winter drivers so you’ll be good in a Prius if you have chains and know how to use them.
posted by Red Desk at 9:07 PM on October 4, 2019


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