Driving Safely in the Alps

After the New Year weekend in 2014 when 29,000 cars and coaches were reported stranded in the Tarentaise valley because of a snow storm, 1st Lifts writes about driving safely in the Alps.

We hope this helps you prepare for harsh winter conditions if you decide to drive yourself to the mountains for your ski holiday.  The alternative is, of course, to hire professionals who are used to the conditions and will be ready prepared, like 1st Lifts.

How to prepare for your journey to the Alps

Tips for driving in the snow

  • To reduce the chances of starting a wheel spin be gentle with the clutch and the accelerator. Use high gears. Pull away in second gear if you can; this will send less torque to the wheels, reducing the chances of digging yourself into a hole.
  • Steer and brake GENTLY. Heavy, sharp braking or over steering can lead to skidding. Once you start skidding the vehicle is out of control.
  • Drive slowly, and use major routes as oppose to the back roads.  Major roads are more likely to be cleared, and will have a higher traffic volume that will clear the road from snow.

Clear snow from the vehicle

Always clear the body of your vehicle from snow before setting off.  Good visibility is necessary and snow on the bonnet can obscure your view.  Snow on the roof can fall across the front or rear screens, startling you or other drivers and obscuring your view.

Snow chains

It is not a legality in the Alps to carry snow chains in your vehicle in the winter, but in cases of heavy snow the police will not allow vehicles to drive to resorts without them.  It is all very well to carry snow chains, but you also need to know how to put them on.  1st Lifts drivers practice putting snow chains on regularly, so it is easy when it comes down to it, in the dark, in a snow storm, in freezing temperatures.

Two chains are the minimum advised – check your vehicle handbook for advice on which tyres.

Always pull safely off the main road to a flat surface to fit your snow chains.  Put them on IN GOOD TIME.  There is no point waiting until you are half way up a mountain, in 4 foot of snow, sliding backwards.   If the weather starts to get bad, put them on when you get to a snow chain area (indicated by signs in France).   Your 1st Lifts driver will be experienced in when to fit the snow chains.  Look for snow chain lay-bys, there are many around on the major roads.

If you get stuck push your vehicle to the side of the road, to a safe area before getting out to fit your snow chains.

It is a good idea to carry a head torch, gloves and a mat to kneel on, whilst fitting your snow chains.  Always carry warm clothes and a good pair of boots in case you have to walk.

You must remove your chains when you get to a gritted/cleared road surface.

Snow socks are not as effective as chains and they are not considered an good alternative to chains in areas where snow chain signs are posted.

Snow tyres

1st Lifts vehicles have snow tyres, not just winter tyres.

Winter tyres are designed to give you extra grip during the cold months.  Snow tyres have tread patterns specifically designed to bite into snow and ice.  They are made from softer rubber that will retain flexibility in cold weather so the tyre conforms to the surface of the road.  All season tyres will go hard and are less pliable in cold temperatures.

Snow tyres display a snow flake symbol to show they are of a certain standard.

In France winter tyres are not compulsory.

Warm clothes

Obviously if you are going on a ski holiday you will have warm clothes.  That said they should be easily accessible in the dark, during a snow storm.  Make sure an extra jumper, snow trousers, boots, hats, gloves, scarves and a jacket are easily available for each passenger.

European breakdown kit

It is compulsory in France to carry a European breakdown kit in the vehicle, and it is also very sensible to have one!  Breakdown kits include a hazard warning triangle and adult high visibility vests, which are both compulsory in France.

You can purchase European Breakdown Kits from the AA, here.


Failing the above – ask 1st Lifts to pick you up from the airport and drive you safely into the Alps so you can sit back, relax and not worry about driving in harsh winter conditions.


This post is solely used for advice.  1st Lifts will not responsible for any course of action after reading this information.   You are responsible for your own driving.  Stay safe!