GETTING TO & DRIVING IN ALPINE AREAS

There are different ways to get to the High Country and apart from some roads that close seasonally, access is available all year round to most areas.  At anytime of year the weather can change with little warning in Alpine areas so it’s best to prepare for all weather conditions.  Bus and 4 Wheel Drive Tour companies operate services throughout the snow season from various towns and allow access to High Country towns and resorts without the need for driving yourself.

Some of the benefits of leaving your car at home and travelling by alternative transport to the resorts are not having to drive on sometimes snow covered or icy roads and not having to carry snow chains (and fit them if conditions require us to) and also not needing to park in the resort.

In Victoria, NSW and the ACT, public transport into some areas of the High Country is available via this link for Victoria  and this link for NSW & ACT

Cars, including 4 wheel drives can be hired from different locations.  Check with the hire company if they allow snow or off road driving.  

Flying to the High Country is becoming a popular alternative with Hotham Airport providing access to Mt Hotham and Dinner Plain, while Snowy Mountains Airport in Cooma provides access to NSW resorts.

Gate Entry Fees need to be paid upon entering most Victorian and NSW Alpine Resorts. In NSW, there is a fee upon entering Kosciuszko National Park, year-round, if going to Thredbo, Charlotte Pass, Perisher Resorts or the surrounding alpine areas. If travelling between Jindabyne and Khancoban, in either direction, without stopping to use the resort or National Park, there’s no charge. There’s also no charge for entering Kosciuszko National Park from the North, via the Snowy Mountains Highway. The fee varies between different resorts and Parks and assists with providing services like road clearing, ski patrol, cross-country trail grooming, village transport in some resorts, parking and other services.

Follow this link to further information about entering Kosciuszko National Park

Driving yourself is still generally the most common way to get to the alps as you can take as much luggage as you can fit in your car, you can stop and start where and when you like along the way and come and go from your destination as you please.

Driving in the alps requires more preparation than non-alpine areas and care needs to be taken in poor weather and in Winter or anytime snow or icy conditions are forecast. The following tips can assist with making your alpine driving experience enjoyable and safe:

  • Check you have enough fuel for the journey and top up where possible along the way to ensure you have more than enough fuel as you may find you are parked for or driving for longer periods than normal, if chain fitting or poor weather and traffic conditions.
  • If your vehicle uses Diesel fuel, ensure it is ‘Winter’ or ‘Alpine Diesel’ when travelling in the High Country when frost or snow is possible as normal Diesel can freeze otherwise. This can be purchased at many service stations within or enroute to the High Country. Ask the attendant to ensure you are using the correct Diesel as not all bowsers will be Winter or Alpine Diesel.
  • Check whether or not your vehicle needs anti-freeze added to the radiator coolant.  Many modern vehicles nowadays have the anti-freeze already included in the radiator coolant.
  • Some Alpine areas and resorts require all vehicles to carry snow chains and these will need to be fitted to your vehicle when directed, generally from road signs along the away. Sometimes only 2 wheel drive vehicles may be required to fit chains as engaged 4 wheel drives are sometimes allowed to proceed without fitting chains. Chains being carried must be the correct size for your vehicle. It is an offence to proceed beyond the point where chains are required to be fitted if your vehicle is required to have chains fitted. You may also find your insurance is void if you proceed without chains fitted.  Often the location where we are directed to fit chains is an area with space for cars to park (Chain Fitting Bay). This may be an area where snow is not on the road, but this location is used in order to have your chains fitted, as shortly along the road, is where the snow will often be and it is too late to then stop and fit them and will be too dangerous to attempt to drive without chains.

Snow chains can be hired at many locations in the High Country, generally ski hire outlets and service stations.  Snow chains can also be purchased, which can be more cost effective depending how often and for how long you are travelling to the alps.

Upon hiring or buying snow chains, make sure attention is shown when you are being shown how to fit them. It is vital to fit chains correctly. If you are not familiar with how to fit them, a good idea is to take photos or video of the process on your phone so you can refer to it up on the mountain if you forget. 2 wheel drive vehicles require chains to be fitted to the drive wheels, whilst 4 wheel drives should have chains fitted to the front wheels. Chains provide tyres with better traction and if your vehicle requires them to be fitted to the front wheels, chains can assist with steering grip also. Extreme care must still be taken when driving in snow or ice with chains fitted as the tyres without chains can still easily lose grip.

It is more difficult to fit chains to a vehicle that has been sitting in snowy weather for days, or even just overnight. If you arrive at a resort and haven’t had to fit chains but snow is forecast during your stay, it can be advantageous to fit them during your stay before the snow arrives, so then you can just drive away at the end of your stay. It can be more difficult to fit chains to a wheel that has snow behind it, due to needing a snug fit around the tyre. If you find chains were not required when you are about to leave the resort, they are easy to remove and fitting them in favourable weather makes for good practise!

  • If you find yourself stuck and unable to proceed due to no traction, something you can try, if you have floor mats in your vehicle, is placing them in front of or behind the drive wheels to see if that will assist with gaining traction to at least get the car moving in one direction or the other.
  • When driving in cold or wet weather, sometimes windscreens will fog up on the inside. It’s best to select ‘air conditioner’ and ‘windscreen’ to assist with clearing this. Selecting a warm temperature will often still clear the ‘mist’ on the windscreen but regardless of the temperature you choose, make sure you don’t use the re-circulating air function as this will make it more difficult to clear the windscreen as it increases the humidity inside the vehicle.
  • If leaving your vehicle in an alpine area where snow may fall, it’s worthwhile lifting your windscreen wipers up as you leave the car, as this stops the wiper blades freezing to the windscreen and if it snows, they aren’t frozen to the glass under snow.
  • Handy items to carry with you are a tarp or mat to kneel on when fitting chains and a torch. Thick gloves can be quite cumbersome when trying to fit chains so dishwashing gloves can be useful to keep your hands dry and still have good grip on the chains. Something to scrape snow or ice off your car is very important. Ice scraping tools can be purchased or we have found an old lunch box lid to be quite sufficient! De-icing spray can sometimes be purchased which can be handy in some circumstances. If clearing ice from your windscreen do not use warm water as this can crack the glass. 
  • If staying overnight where snow is likely, a shovel can be great help if heavy snow falls, some stores sell snow shovels which are very light, but it all depends what space you have in your vehicle to carry extra items like this.
  • By law, snow must be removed from the roof, bonnet, boot and windscreen of your vehicle prior to driving, as it is an offence to not do so, as this is an unsecured load. Snow will almost always fall off your car as you drive down from the Alpine areas as the outside temperature increases, the engine warms the bonnet and the warmth from the heater being on and occupants in the car causes the snow to shed off the vehicle. Too many times this snow sheds in one large amount and either lands on an oncoming vehicle or on the road, causing other motorists to arrive upon a section of snow (generally this happens on a corner and down the mountain enough that the road was free of snow) and this is very dangerous. The snow can also land in front of your car causing you to suddenly find you can’t stop or steer. An example of this is pictured here, although only a small amount of snow on this occasion. Alternatively, snow shedding off the roof of the car, upon braking, slides forward over the windscreen and all of the snow off the roof stops when it gets to the bonnet and all visibility out of the windscreen is lost.
  • Driving on snowy or icy roads needs to be done with greater care than normal wet conditions. Accelerate and brake gently and try to get your braking done before cornering. Downhill braking and cornering are when all vehicles can lose grip and sometimes 4 wheel drives can be the ones that end up off the road as these vehicles generally don’t provide any extra braking and cornering advantages over 2 wheel drives with chains fitted. The quality of our tyres is probably the most important thing to be aware of. The more tread you have will lead to more traction. A lot of SUV’s and 4 wheel drives come with a tyre that is more suited to highway driving than off road and snow conditions, so being aware of this is also important and you may wish to fit chains to a 4 wheel drive (front wheels) if you aren’t confident in its tyres or your own ability or experience.  In frosty, dry conditions, be aware of the road surface on bridges as these areas can be icy as they are generally colder than road surfaces sitting on ‘land’.  Areas of shade over the road are also the first places to become icy and the last places to thaw out.