If you’ve ever done it before you’ll already know that taking the family skiing during the winter half term or Christmas break costs a fortune. But there is a way you can reduce the overall cost – drive to the Alps instead of flying. It’s also – arguably – a more relaxing way to travel. Just think, no lugging cases and equipment around airports, and no local transfers. You simply drive all the way to your destination, taking in the local scenary too.
However, if you do decide to drive, you need to think carefully about your car, and in particular your tyres. Read on to find out what the rules are about winter tyres and chains while driving in Europe.
First stop: France
Depending on your starting point, from the UK it’s possible to drive to the French Alps in one – admittedly long – day. From the south east, expect to be in the car for about ten hours. So, it follows that most self-drive skiers opt for resorts in France like Morzine, Chamonix and Méribel.
It will take longer to get to the Italian Alps, but that’s certainly achievable and plenty of people make this journey too, choosing to ski in places like Cervinia, Sestrière and Courmayeur. You have to drive through France for much of the way before crossing the border via the Mont Blanc tunnel.
If you’re driving in or through France, there’s a standard list of items you must legally have with you in the car, including a breathalyser kit, high visibility vests, and a warning triangle. Most people know about these and it’s easy to pick up what you need at the Euro Tunnel terminal in Folkestone. If you’re travelling in a hire car, these items typically come as standard.
But what about tyres?
In both countries, winter tyres are compulsory “in certain areas”. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that the mountains in winter qualify for that status. The most important thing to make clear is that chains are not a substitute for winter tyres. You will need to fit winter tyres.
Leading premium tyre manufacturer, Continental Tyres, offer an extensive range of winter tyres that are ideal for the job, providing protection to drivers in cold temperature conditions. Their latest offering is the WinterContact TS 860 S, designed and built for the most demanding cold weather and snowy conditions. If you’re driving an SUV the Continental WinterContact™ TS 850 P SUV is also an excellent tyre to consider.
Winter tyres are – counter to most people’s understanding – not just for driving on snow. The rubber composition they’re made from improves grip – on dry roads too – when it’s 7°C or below. And that means you’re not just buying a set of winter tyres for the last few miles up the mountain to your chalet. They’ll keep you safer for the whole trip.
And yes, you’ll also need a set of chains.
And here’s the thing we Brits get wrong most of the time – many of our compatriots put chains on at the foot of the mountain in anticipation of snowy roads ahead. We’re known for it. Never do that. Why? You’ll damage your tyres and your speed – and that of the cars behind you – will slow to a crawl. You’ll cause traffic chaos and increase the likelihood of dangerous overtaking as other drivers get impatient.
Only ever put chains on when there’s a significant amount of snow on the road – once your winter tyres can’t grip, as the inclines get a bit steeper.
Next up: Switzerland and Austria
When it comes to Switzerland and Austria, it all depends on whether you’re heading east or west.
If you’re going to a Swiss resort in the west of the country – such as Verbier or Zermatt – your route will probably take you through France, in which case make sure you’ve read the previous section, above. Switzerland has more or less the same rules as France when it comes to winter tyres.
If you’re going to the east of Switzerland – think Flims or Klosters – or into Austria for resorts like St Anton or Lech – you’ll need to drive through several countries, but you’ll be on German roads most of the time.
In Germany (where Continental Tyres originates from) and Austria, winter tyres with the “M+S” symbol on the tyre wall are compulsory between November and April. If you’re involved in a traffic accident and your car is not fitted with tyres with this symbol, irrespective of what happened you will be deemed responsible. Period. You’ll also incur an extra fine if – as a result of not having winter tyres – you’ve caused delays for other drivers.
There are also huge fines – especially in Austria where they can go up to €5,000 – if you’re stopped and found not to have winter tyres fitted.
Winter tyres aren’t just for your skiing holiday
It’s true. We Brits are just not used to changing our tyres in the winter. Our climate means we don’t get that much snow and – because most people mistakenly think winter tyres are only for driving on snow – we don’t feel the need for them. Remember, winter tyres are for cold weather – 7°C and below.
But if you’re driving to the Alps every year, they’re a very worthwhile investment – one that will make your car safer when you’re driving here in the UK during the winter months too.
To learn more about winter tyres and which tyres are best for your vehicle, speak to the tyre professionals at ASDA Tyres for assistance. They’ll offer you impartial advice and expert fitting solutions. Click here to live chat to one of our experts, or find you nearest fitting station.