Snow is not always cool
Take a chill pill for the slippery slopes
Trees covered in snow.Picture: Michel Bega, Claire Visser and iStock
The first thing I thought after admiring pictures taken at my old high school in Johannesburg during this week’s snap snowfall was, “Thank heavens this happened during the school holidays!”
Can you imagine the mayhem at the hairpin or bottom of an icy Munro Drive involving mothers and fathers doing school drops?
How much worse could it have been had they tried out the low range gearing options on their, mostly virgin, northern suburbs 4×4 bakkies and SUVs? Four-wheel drive, all-wheel drive… you say “potato”… either is about as helpful as a pinprick to a balloon when you don’t know how to drive in icy conditions.
I chatted to Margaret Pretorius, owner of Matchstick Holdings and specialist event organiser primarily for the automotive industry, who said there were different approaches to driving on fresh powder, compacted slush and the desperately treacherous black ice in traffic.
What they have in common, she added, was “slow and smooth – and maintain a steady forward momentum, especially going up hills”.
Driving and snow viewing tips
Also, she said, Gauteng drivers need to rein in their aggression and return to the defensive driving style they learned in acquiring their licenses.
In the first place, that means no tail-gating. That’s not only a no-brainer when it comes to braking but it’s also logical for overtaking.
When you are close to the car you want to pass, your movements (turning the wheel and accelerating) will be exaggerated and the risk of losing the rear is huge. On the other hand, it being school holidays, social media was soon awash with requests for information about where best to view snow.
And off they raced… Take a chill pill, people. Don’t rush out when clouds lift and show a heavy dusting on the Highveld’s peaks: more often than not, snow will have melted by the time you get there.
Wait for the second or third falls, check social media to ensure access roads are open and call someone to join you (having a second vehicle along just makes sense in the case of mishap). Pack a towrope and reflective warning triangles in case someone lands in a ditch.
Prepare for compacted roads and flight cancellations
If half of Bryanston has had the same idea and the snow on the road has become compacted, consider deflating tyres a bit to increase the area of traction.
My second piece of travel ad vice involving snow involves a potentially disastrous situation I faced in London over Christmas a decade ago.
Friends and I were out on the randan the evening before I was due to fly home and we were entranced when the first flakes began drifting down. It was still snowing when we returned to the apartment and continued the party.
I woke to a call from a mate saying all flights out of London Heathrow were cancelled until further notice. I looked out the window to see the world blanketed in white, with about 15cm (into which someone had scooped a rude word) on the bonnet of a little red BMW.
I confirmed the cancellation and went back to bed. It was only the next day that I tried contacting South African Airways to reschedule. After hours of remaining on hold, I was told the earliest available seat was in 11 days. Let me tell you, London is horrendously expensive over Christmas and New Year.
Trust a travel agent for expert crisis management
My advice is, when travelling abroad, always use a travel agent. Contact your agent the moment you experience a travel crisis and leave everything up to him or her. You will save a whack of money and enjoy far greater piece of mind knowing a professional who has much greater access than you will ever entertain is on the job.