Staying mobile while your neighbours are stranded behind a snowdrift can be one of the most satisfying reasons to own a Land Rover. But even in the best 4x4xFar, snow can be dangerous to drive in.
It comes in many forms, making this a complex subject. Sometimes it demands similar techniques to wet grass, sometimes sand. Each situation really needs to be judged separately.
Here are the basic rules to keep you safe.
Before venturing into the snow, pack a recovery kit including a shovel, recovery rope and waffle board or traction mat (a piece of old carpet is better than nothing).
Most Land Rover tyres are marked ‘M+S’ so they’re suitable for mud and snow but tyres marked with the ‘three peaks/snowflake’, with their numerous sipes are even better. The sipes act like teeth biting snow and frost, increasing the grabbing ffect of the tyre.
In shallow snow, a narrow tread will help you cut down to the terrain beneath. In deep snow, wider tyres will help you ride it without sinking.
Electronic aids like traction control and ABS will maximise grip and help you stay in control, but they can’t work miracles if there’s no grip available. And although four-wheel drive can get you moving on slippery ground, it won’t help you stop any better.
Before you encounter snow, set Terrain Response (if you have it) for ‘Grass, Gravel & Snow’ and engage any locking diffs your vehicle may have.
The golden rule is to keep everything very slow and gentle. Sudden changes in throttle, braking or steering input can induce a slide with dire consequences – a heavy, sliding 4x4 carries a lot of kinetic energy that’s difficult to bring under control on snow, and can cause serious damage if it hits something.
2. Pulling away and climbing uphill
You want the torque to be transmitted to the ground as smoothly as possible, so use the highest practical gear and be gentle with the clutch. Approach any hills straight on, not diagonally or you could start sliding if you lose traction. If you’re struggling for grip on a climb, steering left and right in quick succession can help find it again. If you fail the climb reverse straight back down.
3. Braking and going downhill
A 4WD's braking in snow is no better than a 2WD car’s. Snow and ice cause radically increased braking distances, so give yourself much more space than feels necessary.
ABS will help keep the car under control but it won’t find grip if none is available.
Approach a descent slowly. Make sure there’s nothing you could slide into, and also that you’ll be able to drive up the other side. You don’t want to get stuck at the bottom!
It’s safer to start off slowly than trying to slow when you’re on the hill. Dab the brakes gently to prevent wheels locking.
If the front wheels lock on an icy surface, you’ll plough downhill regardless of the steering angle. Releasing the brakes will allow the tyres to rotate, helping regain directional control. You might need to accelerate gently to achieve this.
On soft snow, carefully use the brakes to lock the wheels and build snow in front of them, which helps slow you.
4. Deeper Snow
If you spot an area of snow where there’s no vegetation poking through, it could be hiding an obstacle – use a stick to assess what is underneath. If you’ve chosen to drive fresh snow of unknown depth, inch forward very slowly to compact the snow under your wheels and prevent breaking it up, and consider lowering your tyre pressures to increase their area of contact. If you have air suspension, raise it to its off-road setting. Remember that compacted snow isn’t soft, and can damage your vehicle if hit at speed.
5. If you start to slide
Stay calm and keep everything smooth. If the wheels start to slide sideways, back off and steer gently into the skid.
Avoid your instinct to brake hard, and be careful not to over-correct the steering or you could induce an even bigger slide in the opposite direction.
If you’re continually sliding, you’re probably driving too fast for your tyres to grip, so slow down!
6. If you get stuck
If you can’t go forward and you can’t back out, try rocking back and forth in reverse and first to compact the snow under your wheels, making a gradually larger trough.
If this fails to get you free, hop out, remove any snow that may be obstructing your tyres, axles or bodywork, and dig a channel for your wheels to follow.
Placing rocks, vegetation, waffle boards or traction mats under your wheels will give them a fresh surface to grip.