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Oct 30, 2020

9 min. read

Winter Driving School.

Always drive to conditions. But if you find yourself in a slippery situation, try these smart strategies from CAA Manitoba's Heather Mack, manager of government and community relations.

Conquer snowy hills.

Going uphill? Start accelerating at the base to build enough momentum to get to the top. Driving downhill, use a lower gear—rather than the brakes—to slow down. When you do brake, press down gently to maintain a slow, steady pace.

Handle black ice.

An invisible layer of ice can glaze over roads in cold temperatures. If you hit a patch, stay calm. Don't slam on the brakes! With ABS brakes, firmly press down on the brake pedal—the car will pump for you. Steer in the direction you want to go.

Recover from a skid.

If front tires lose traction, don't steer into the skid! Take your foot off the gas and steer in the direction you want to go. If back tires lose grip, slamming the brakes or jerking the wheel can make you fishtail. Instead, look and steer in the direction you want the car to go.

Navigate a whiteout.

Slow down, use low beams and turn on front/rear defrosters. Whiteouts typically pass quickly, but you may want to pull over at a safe location, away from traffic. If you continue driving, keep headlights on but avoid high beams—they reflect more light off snowflakes, further reducing visibility. Drive slowly and watch your speed: If you can't see other vehicles or landmarks, it's tough to gauge how fast you're going. If road markings are covered, rely on signs as guides.

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I'm stuck! Now what?

Here's what you should and shouldn't do if you're stranded in the snow.

"Don't ever leave your vehicle-period," says physiologist and University of Manitoba professor Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht. Known as Professor Popsicle, Giesbrecht is a leading authority on freezing to death. The king of chill has lowered his own body temperature to the threshold of hypothermia a mind-numbing 33 times—all in the name of research.

"Cold, wet and wind are the deadly triad of hypothermia," he explains. If your car slides into a snowbank, or you run out of gas or break down, do not leave to look for help. First, remain calm and pull off the road, away from traffic. Next, figure out where you are by checking your GPS or identifying nearby landmarks. If you've been in an accident or are hurt, call 911. For a tow truck, contact CAA and provide as many location details as possible. Download the CAA Mobile App or keep the number in your cell phone: 1-800-222-4357.

Then, wait it out: "Ninety-five percent of searches are successful within 24 hours," Giesbrecht says. Stranded drivers tend to think they'll never be found, but they will. There's also a tendency to panic about freezing to death within a few hours. "Even at -40 C, you can easily survive 24 hours in your vehicle." To stay warm, clear your exhaust pipe of snow (to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning) and intermittently run the vehicle for heat. When running the engine, crack a window for ventilation.

Of course, prevention is the best medicine. Before leaving town, ensure you've got a full tank of gas, a vehicle in good working order and an emergency kit. Pick up a ready-made kit at your local CAA Store or build your own. Pack a sleeping bag, phone charger, spare parka and boots, warm gloves and food, like chocolate bars. Water, which may freeze, isn't as important: "You can live without water for three days—longer in the winter," Giesbrecht says.

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How to survive winter.

Embrace a fresh Manitoba snowfall and get an adrenaline rush with these cool twists on classic winter activities.

Ice fishing: luxury edition.

It's one of those brilliant, bluesky winter days in Manitoba where sunglasses are a must and the warmth of spring is just around the corner. But first, we fish! And we do it in the lap of luxury aboard the ultimate winter recreational vehicle known as a SnoBear. These mobile ice-fishing shacks on tracks keep anglers toasty inside when the Big Windy (a.k.a. Lake Winnipeg) flexes her muscles. Fishing holes in the floor make it easy to drop a line anywhere over the water. Book a full-day rental at Gull Harbour Marina on Hecla Island. Rentals include all the essentials: rods, reels, auger, depth finder, ice scoop and even a guide who will show you the best spots to reel in walleye, northern pike, perch and burbot. With a few keepers in hand, you may be able to talk your guide into an authentic shore lunch on the ice.

Snowmobiling the Canadian Shield.

Soaring spruces and deep fluffy snow set the stage for your snowmobile adventure on the Canadian Shield. At Bakers Narrows Lodge, hidden in a thick boreal forest not far from the Flin Flon airport, riders journey through crisscrossing backcountry trails, before letting loose on wide-open frozen lakes. The lodge provides easy-to-handle machines and helmets. After your exhilarating ride, hunker down in a log cabin for a long winter's nap.

Reach new icy heights.

Ice climbing in Manitoba? Every winter, the Club d'escalade de Saint-Boniface, part of the Alpine Club of Canada, opens an ice tower on the shore of the Red River, overlooking downtown Winnipeg. Novices and pros alike can scale the three-sided tower on winter weekends, with gear provided free of charge. The icy wall typically remains solid from December to March, but climbs are cancelled if the windchill dips below -31 C.

On thin ice.

It's never a good idea to traverse unfamiliar frozen lakes, rivers or ponds. But if you've fallen through the ice, you can get out. Follow this strategy from ice expert and physiologist Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht, a.k.a. Professor Popsicle.

  • Follow the 1-10-1 principle: One minute to control breathing; 10 minutes of meaningful movement; and one hour before you become severely hypothermic.

  • Regulate your breathing within the first minute. The frigid water will make you hyperventilate. Get control by taking several slow, deep breaths to calm down.

  • You've got 10 minutes before your limbs go numb. Stretch arms out on the ice near the edge.

  • Kick and pull. Kick both legs in the water to propel your body up and along the ice.

  • Pull forward with your arms to nudge your body up onto the ice until you're completely out of the water.

  • Don't stand up! Roll or crawl away from the hole. Move in the direction you came from before falling in (it had thicker ice to support your weight).

  • Stand up on visibly thick ice and gingerly walk to shore.

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