How's I-70 in January?
December 16, 2007 11:43 AM   Subscribe

Can I make it through Colorado?

I'm driving west on I-70 out of Denver in early January, and heading all the way to the coast. Assuming regular weather patterns, will I be safe in my 2 door Honda Prelude? I'm just wondering about snow in the Rockies, how I can expect the interstate to be and if this is a bad idea in a 2 door, front wheel drive vehicle. Also, any advice on Utah and Nevada would be welcome.
posted by dead_ to Travel & Transportation around Colorado (12 answers total)
I think you'll be fine, they keep the roads pretty well plowed. Hondas are great little winter cars for around here (Colorado). Front wheel drive is much better than rear wheel for wet weather. If you haven't done any driving in the snow yet, it takes a while to get used to. Don't follow too closely. Do some experimenting in a parking lot to understand how to break, turn and accelerate. Other than that, Be sure to have a window scraper, shovel, and blanket in your trunk just in case.
posted by bumper314 at 11:53 AM on December 16, 2007

Best answer: Assuming you're not trying to drive through a major storm at the time, you should be fine. However, note that, even if the weather is bright and sunny in Denver when you leave, it may be snowing in the mountains. Be prepared. Also, watch for icy spots in canyons and other locations along the road that don't get much (if any) sun this time of year. Typically, they're marked.

As for Utah, be aware that there's an extremely long stretch (~100 miles) of I-70 between Green River and Salina in which there are no services whatosever. No gas, no food, no nothing. Make sure to top off your tank ahead of time and sit back and enjoy the amazing scenery. It's my favorite part of the drive to California.
posted by jal0021 at 11:58 AM on December 16, 2007

I don't know much about the driving conditions, but following on bumper314's comment, you should have a fleece blanket or some kind of fleece in the car as well. It keeps you warm even when it's wet. A pair of gloves is also necessary -- you can't change a tire in the snow without gloves. And a couple of granola bars or peanuts/raisins, too.
posted by k8lin at 12:00 PM on December 16, 2007

Best answer: Don't forget to check CDOT before you take off. It's good to know whether things are getting hairy up around the Eisenhower tunnel. If you have snow tires, I'd suggest putting them on for the trip. Otherwise, I'll second bumper314's advice. I see lots of Hondas running around the Front Range on snowy, snowy days and I'm pretty sure it's the careful, confident, slow driving that keeps their drivers out of trouble.

Remember to bring bottled watter, some snacks, keep well rested, be extra careful at night.
posted by salsamander at 12:02 PM on December 16, 2007

When are you going? I'm driving to Portland January 11th in a rental from Denver, maybe we could have be safe on the road coffee.
posted by yodelingisfun at 12:13 PM on December 16, 2007

Boots would probably be a good idea to have in the car too. Makes shoveling the car out much less miserable.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:58 PM on December 16, 2007

Best answer: Ooh, I did a big winter drive like this two years ago. I stuck to interstates only - the I-80 - and I was extremely lucky in that I had clear weather all the way through. It was a piece of cake. That said, I had chains in my trunk and an emergency kit and was well prepared.

I actually monitored the National Weather Service for several days prior to my departure. I delayed departure by one day because of a storm in the Sierra Nevadas and I would have considered changing my route if there were big systems coming in. I looked at the national outlook and the longer range charts (the links are at the bottom of the 'national outlook' page). They're not that hard to read. In general, high pressure means clear skies, and low pressure probably means rain; the closer together the contour lines near a low, the nastier the storm.

Since you're taking the I-70 I would assume you're headed for LA via I-15. Otherwise I would recommend you go north from Denver and take the I-80. In general, no matter which route you take you are subject to getting hit by a snowstorm at any time, and you will have to cross mountain passes. The passes can be, er, impassible in bad weather. If you don't have really good tires or snow chains on your car and the road surface is snowy, you might not have enough traction to climb the hills. Interstates do not have many such passes, but for example where the I-80 crosses the Sierra Nevadas just past Reno I have seen snow chain restrictions in effect. The best advice I can give in such cases is first, to know the weather forecast for the next few days so you can make an informed decision about if you can turn back and wait out a storm, or if you are going to be stuck in it no matter what. Second, know your route so you know how far it is to the next town. If you get stuck in hairy conditions you need to know if you should press ahead or turn back. Do not be reluctant to turn back if you feel uncomfortable. As soon as you get that nasty feeling in the pit of your stomach that you shouldn't be there, that's a good time to turn around.

Again, if the weather is clear you will have no problems. Just be prepared and be properly cautious.
posted by PercussivePaul at 2:05 PM on December 16, 2007

Response by poster: yodelingisfun: I'm leaving on the 7th, just missed by a few days!!

Everyone else, thank you for your excellent advice. I have much experience driving in snow, but very little experience with I-70 :)
posted by dead_ at 2:17 PM on December 16, 2007

Take tire chains. I think you can even be fined for not having them on when signs instruct you so. (Don't live there, but have heard such from others.)
posted by The Deej at 3:16 PM on December 16, 2007

Best answer: Here in Colorado, if conditions are so bad on I-70 that a non-4WD passenger vehicle can't manage without chains, CDOT will usually close the interstate. The chain laws mostly apply to commercial vehicles (i.e., semis), which have a tendency to jack-knife and block the road in heavy snows.

So, I wouldn't run out and buy tire chains. You're better off using the money on a hotel room to wait out the storm. Because, if it's so bad that you need chains, it's going to take you an entire day of white-knuckle driving to make a trip that typically only takes 4 hours. And if CDOT ends up closing the road while you're on it, you'll just end up having to find a hotel room anyway. It's not worth it.
posted by jal0021 at 4:35 PM on December 16, 2007

You might want to consider carrying a bag of kitty litter and a small light shovel in the trunk of your car. in case you get stuck. I used to live up near the continental divide and drove a front wheel drive vehicle. I never had a problem on the roads or mountain passes...however there were a handful of times when I stopped somewhere or went to turn around after making a wrong turn and got stuck in the snow. Like other people have said, pay attention to the weather and trust your instincts. Even tough locals will call in late to work after a hard snowfall if the mountain passes still look bad.
posted by pluckysparrow at 4:43 PM on December 16, 2007

Seconding checking CDOT before you hit Golden. They do keep the roadways pretty well cleared and you should have no trouble. I have found the worst spot, by far, is Vail Pass. There's also a section between Vail Pass and Glenwood Springs that can get pretty nasty. CDOT has a 1-800 number that they update regularly, as well.

You will be just fine!
posted by jstef at 6:10 PM on December 16, 2007

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