Driving in Snow in Lake Tahoe: How to Drive when the Roads are Icy

Maintain Traction

Start and stop gradually. Drive at steady speeds, avoiding sudden starts of stops. Accelerate slightly when approaching a hill, then maintain a steady speed going up. Gear down (down shift) to avert wear on brakes and sustain control.


To avoid skids, drive sensibly and steadily. Anticipate turns and lane changes. If the vehicle begins to skid, remove your foot from the accelerator or brake and steer in the direction of the skid. After you regain control of the vehicle, straighten and proceed.


Use gentle braking pressure on slippery road conditions. To avoid locking wheels, use a gentle pumping action on disc brakes, but steady gentle pressure on anti-lock brake systems. Drive through curves at a safe, steady speed and gear down for both uphill and downhill.

Traveler Driving Tips

  • Most rental cars that are available at the mountain airports will not come equipped with snow tires (Even in the winter). Four-wheel drive vehicles are available upon request and it is suggested that you make that request ASAP.
  • Studded snow tires are not necessary and tire chains are not required for non-commercial vehicles. Many large trucks are required to put chains on in order to proceed over the mountain passes during a snowstorm. Most passenger vehicle drivers do not use chains.
  • Don’t Tailgate! The highway department here uses a type of sand on the roads instead of salt (like on the east coast). The sand does not break up as finely as salt, and this results in larger particles remaining on the road. It is not uncommon for tailgaters to be easily identified by their cracked windshields up here in the mountains.
  • Sunday Departure Tips
  • Check road conditions before you leave home.
  • Drive slowly, and avoid sudden actions like braking, acceleration, or turns.
  • Give plenty of following distance.
  • Be mindful of other drivers on the road – especially at intersections.
  • Carry chains – and know which tires they go on. And how to put them on.
  • Remember, a “4 wheel drive” vehicle does not have “4 wheel stop.”
  • More winter driving tips from Caltrans
  • Before driving, check weather and road conditions by dialing 511 within Nevada (or 1-877-NV-ROADS outside of Nevada) or logging on to www.nvroads.com.
  • Weathering the storm brochure PDF
  • Only travel in winter weather when necessary, leave enough time to safely reach your destination and plan your route to help avoid snowy/icy areas and steep hills.
  • Share your travel itinerary so others know when to expect you.
  • Remove snow and ice from all vehicle windows, mirrors, lights, turn signals and license plates.
  • Buckle up.
  • Turn on headlights to see and be seen.
  • Do not rely solely on GPS to find alternate routes, as it could lead to unmaintained roadways or hazardous areas.
  • Turn off cruise control.
  • Avoid quick starts, stops and fast turns. Accelerate, brake and steer smoothly and gradually.
  • Reduce speed. Speed limits are based on normal road and weather conditions, not winter road conditions.
  • Do not slam on brakes. Apply steady pressure on ABS-equipped (anti-lock braking system) vehicles and pump the brakes if necessary on non-ABS vehicles.
  • Always comply with all posted traction device requirements.
  • If your vehicle has snow tires, install and use them between October 1st and May 1st.
  • Keep additional distance from other vehicles.
  • Watch carefully for snow removal equipment.
  • Do not pass without good distance and sight clearance.
  • Use extra caution on bridges, ramps, overpasses, and shaded areas- they may freeze first.
  • Maintain a high fuel level.
  • If the vehicle begins to skid, steer in direction of slide and slowly remove foot from the accelerator.
  • Be aware of black ice.
  • If parked or stuck in the snow, leave a window slightly cracked for ventilation and make sure the vehicle exhaust system is clear of snow.

Be Prepared

Check before you go:

  • Wipers
  • Tires / tread
  • Brakes
  • Lights
  • Battery
  • Radiator
  • Belts / hoses
  • Exhaust / fuel / ignition system
  • Heater / defroster
  • Thermostat
  • Vehicle fluid levels –(anti-freeze oil, windshield, brake fluid, etc.)
  • Full gasoline tank

Snowplow Safety

  • Use caution when following, passing or approaching snow removal equipment.
  • Drive a safe distance behind snowplows. Plows often travel slower than other vehicles to remove snow, apply sand and liquid anti-icers and assist stranded vehicles.
  • Before attempting to pass snow removal equipment, check direction of snow discharge to avoid snow and debris thrown from equipment. Remember that plows are wider than most vehicles and portions of the plow and blade may be obscured by blowing snow.
  • Don’t crowd the plow. Only pass snow removal vehicles when a safe, legal passing area is available and adequately clear of snow and/or treated with salt and sand.
  • Don’t travel beside a snowplow. They can shift sideways after hitting snow packs or drifts. Plows also are not able to automatically stop sanding when other vehicles pass. Therefore, sand may unintentionally hit vehicles if not driven a proper distance from snow removal equipment.
  • When a plow approaches you, allow the plow room to operate by reducing speed and moving to the right side of the road if there is room to safely do so.
  • Do not brake with unnecessary sudden movements when in front of a snowplow – plows cannot stop as quickly as an automobile.
  • Don’t drive through white out conditions caused by swirling snow around a snowplow. Safely pull to the side or slow to allow visibility to improve.
  • Remember that a snowplow operator’s field of vision is restricted. You may see them, but they may not see you.

1. Winterize Your Vehicle

If you’re flying into Tahoe for vacation, you’ll probably need to rent a car to reach your mountain destination. Make sure you have a solid and reliable vehicle to take out on the road. It should have winter tires installed (or at least all season with great tread) and the appropriate safety accessories included in the car.

Driving in snow and winter conditions safely takes more than just skill. Folks from Tahoe can tell you that snowy roads can be a challenge even if you have lived in the area your whole life. Have your brakes checked prior to your trip and always make sure that you have a charged battery and full fluids in your vehicle.

You’ll avoid a host of problems if you have your car winterized in the fall:

  • Have your engine tuned-up at the mechanics.
  • Confirm that all lights are working and that the headlights are clear.
  • Have the battery checked. Clean any corrosion with water and baking soda.
  • Ensure that all fluids are at their appropriate levels.
  • Either use all-season or winter oil.
  • Have the wiper blades cleaned and/or switch to winter wiper blades.
  • Make sure tires are inflated and have good traction – snow tires go a long way.

2. Prevent Carbon Monoxide

To prevent carbon monoxide from leaking into the car when the engine runs, you must always make sure that the exhaust pipe is never clogged with ice or snow. Make it a habit to check this every time before driving anywhere during the winter.

3. Plan Ahead

Winter driving conditions in Tahoe have the potential to change in an instant. You can’t assume that just because the sun is out now, the weather won’t turn into a nasty blizzard later on. Plan ahead and be prepared for any type of weather that could arise. Also know your route. Study in advance so you are aware of any high mountain passes and directions you’ll need to follow. And wipe any snow off your windshield, windows and lights prior to driving.

4. Traffic Cams

CalTrans has an invaluable website, Live Cams, which allows anyone to watch live traffic cams across the entire state. This way, you’ll be constantly informed of road closings, weather conditions, and traffic. You can even download a free mobile app.

5. Have a Car Survival Kit

In case of emergencies on the road you should keep the proper supplies ready in your car. A first aid kit, a shovel, a set of tire chains and some sand or kitty litter can be invaluable during an emergency. Without question, every car on Tahoe’s winter roads should have a survival kit that sits in the trunk or beneath the seats 24/7:

  • Candles
  • Cat Litter (for trekking over ice)
  • Cell Phone
  • Cloth (brightly colored, for signaling help)
  • Water, Dried Foods/Protein Bars
  • Fire Starters (flint striker, lighter and matches)
  • First Aid Kit (familiarize yourself with the contents) (affiliate link)
  • Flares
  • Flashlight (durable, with spare batteries)
  • Hand Warmers
  • Knife (folding or fixed, and with a durable blade)
  • Jumper Cables
  • Metal Cup
  • Snow Scraper, Snow Shovel
  • Sleeping Bag, Space Blankets
  • Spare Clothes (boots, coats, snow pants, hats, wool socks, etc)
  • Sunglasses (to protect your eyes against the glare from snow and ice)
  • Tire Chains
  • Tow Rope

6. Avoid Cruise Control

There’s no denying that cruise control is a very nice feature to have when driving in normal conditions, but in the winter the dynamics change and using cruise control is unfortunately unsafe. If your car skids it will accelerate by spinning the wheels, because it’s trying to keep up with the predetermined speed. This makes it significantly more difficult to control the vehicle if such an event were to occur.

7. Keep Your Gas Tank Above ½ Full

You’ve probably heard before that you should keep your car’s gas tank above half full at all times in the winter. This avoids gas line freeze and will give you plenty of gas to keep your car heated if you’re stranded. We recommend making sure you have a full tank by Placerville, Ca.

8. Slow Down

Driving too fast is easily the number one cause of winter driving accidents. Icy roads that may not look icy, de-iced roads that could still be slippery, low visibility, and other moving vehicles are all good reasons to slow down on the road. Don’t tailgate and keep an eye on your rearview mirror to make sure nobody gets too close to you. Use your brakes sparingly, and like you’re stepping on an eggshell if braking in the snow.

9. Easy On The Brakes

For most drivers, when things start to get slick, it’s the natural instinct to hit the brakes to help slow your vehicle. When you are driving in the harsh weather of a Tahoe winter, hitting the brakes can often just make things worse. Reducing your speed and only using your brakes when necessary can help you to avoid sliding and slipping along the road.

If you find yourself sliding or fishtailing on black ice or slick packed snow, avoid the brake and steer into the slide. Oversteering or overbraking can send you into the ditch.

10. Take Your Turns Wide

Avoid sharp turns. Take wide arching turns when driving on snow and ice. This will decrease the likelihood of slipping out of control. Take your turns very gradually and allow plenty of space.

11. Don’t Idle Your Car

Contrary to what many people think, you shouldn’t warm up your car by idling the engine. This will only worsen your gas mileage, potentially cause damage to your engine and won’t warm up your car very quickly. The right way to warm up your car is to drive it.

12. Don’t Stop Going Up a Hill

This doesn’t mean you should power out and get to the top of a hill as quickly as possible, but it does mean that you need to gain inertia on a flat surface before reaching the hill to carry you to the top. Once you make it to the top, slow down and proceed very slowly. On narrow roads the vehicle going up hill has the right away. Car driving downhill must yield.

13. Know What to do if You Get Stranded

It’s a very empty feeling to be stranded in your car out in a remote place, but as long as you know what to do when stranded, help will eventually come and you’ll be rescued.

Never wander from your vehicle. The only times you should leave the vehicle are to tie a colored cloth to the antenna to signal for help, and to routinely remove any snow from the tail pipe to prevent carbon monoxide buildup.

Run the engine for five or ten minutes every hour to keep you warm, and remove any snow or ice from the tail pipe. You can set a candle on fire in the cup holder for extra warmth, though remember to open one of the windows just a little to keep your car from becoming air tight.

14. Don’t Drive Alone

The buddy system can work well for you if you are driving in hazardous winter weather. Whenever possible, avoid heading out into a storm on your own. Make sure that you alert someone about your destination and your approximate ETA. This way, if you are overdue, someone can send help in case you have gone off the road. Put the stronger driver in front to set the slow pace as it’s usually easier to follow someone else’s lights during blizzard.

15. Practice Driving on Snow and Ice

Driving safely from A to B and wherever else you see yourself going should be a top priority. If you’re new to winter roads consider putting in the practice in parking lots and other open spaces to allow yourself a chance to make mistakes. Even if you’re a tourist with a car rental, spend some time learning how your vehicle operates in these conditions in a safe area. The more you do it the better you’ll become.

Although driving is always unpredictable, everyone should acquire the skills needed to face the winter roads without relative fear. Know how to handle your steering wheel, and the subtleties of the brake and gas pedals on a slick road. Remember no high beams during a snow storm, only low beams.

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