When to Buy Snow Tires? When Your Life Depends on Them!

Wondering when to buy snow tires? We were thinking about getting snow tires ever since we arrived in Alaska for the winter. Then, one night on Alaska Highway 3 Rene and I realized immediately that we needed to get them ASAP!

Sunrise Over Parks Highway South

Winter driving can be a challenging experience. I know because I’m speaking from personal experience. Our winter home in Willow is nearly two hours north of Anchorage, Alaska. We’ve already had to make the trip a few times, and may need to head back more often than we like. The Parks highway is frequently covered in snow and ice. And even when it’s not, the majority of it will remain frozen until spring. This includes sneaky patches of black ice.

On a recent return trip after sunset, we did what they call the dance. All of a sudden, it felt like the road disappeared from beneath our tires. That’s because it had. Suddenly our rear tires were spinning and the bed of our truck was swerving left. My immediate reaction was to over correct. Thankfully, I remained calmed and let my foot off the gas. Then, we gently swung right.

This was the longest few seconds of my life. My grip on the wheel tightened, my eyes widened, and my heart pounded as as my breathing stopped. Guiding the wheel firmly but ever so gently we swerved left again, with oncoming traffic approaching quickly. “That was better,” flashed through my thoughts. “It’s not getting worse,” I thought, “we may not die.” It felt like a silent, slow motion scene from some scary movie. Except for the Blue Danube music that sung in my ears as we skated across the highway. Finally, I had the truck under control, and Rene shouted, “Did we just swerve!?”

Why We Need Snow Tires

All I could do was laugh. I slowed to regain composure as the truck behind us sped by hauling a big trailer. We made it home alive. All our groceries from the day of shopping were not spread all over the highway. We did not become another sad statistic. Yet, that evening became my new most terrifying experience behind the wheel. And it could have been avoided.

Why did we suddenly swerve? It’s not like I was speeding, I’ve been very careful to ignore the tailgating locals who seem impervious (or dumb) to dangerous driving conditions. And we didn’t even encounter a moose. Though, we did see a few along the roadside earlier in the day. We likely hit some black ice. And, we likely would have navigated that safely if we had true winter tires. Instead, we were still driving on our “all season” mud and snow tires. Apparently not seasonal enough for Alaska winter season.

studded snow tires
Studded Snow Tires

A critical aspect of ensuring safety during winter driving is choosing the right tires. This is especially important for digital nomads and other full-time RVers who travel through wild weather, diverse terrain, and different driving conditions. That’s why I’m sharing our experience and the significance of getting the right winter tires. In particular, I’m talking about studded snow tires, and providing guidance on when and where they are necessary. Because I would never want anyone to have to clean their driver’s seat like I almost did that night.

Understanding Snow Tires

Winter tires, often referred to as snow tires, are specifically designed for cold temperatures and winter weather. This includes freezing rain, packed snow, and icy driving conditions. These differ from the all-season tires we had. Those “mud and snow tires” are built for much more moderate conditions. They may be more durable and have a beefier tread than regular tires. But winter tires and specifically studded snow tires are tailored for icy, snowy, and slushy roads. The primary differences between winter and all-season tires are the tread design and rubber composition. Studded snow tires provide even more traction with small metal studs embedded in the outer treads.

studded snow tires
Studded Snow Tire Installation

Tread Design: Winter tires have deeper tread depths and unique tread patterns. They are designed to channel snow and slush and reduce the buildup of snow. Additionally, the biting edges on winter tires are more pronounced, providing enhanced grip on ice.

Rubber Composition: The rubber compound used in winter tires is softer than that in all-season tires. It remains more flexible at lower temperatures. This softness allows each tire to conform better to the surface of the road. In freezing cold weather, this translates to improved traction. In contrast, all-season tires tend to harden in low temperatures, reducing their grip on the road. We learned that the hard way.

studded snow tires
Swapping All Season Tires for Studded Treads

Studded Winter Tires

Studded snow tires are a specific type of winter tire providing superior traction on ice and snowy roads. These special snow tires have metal studs embedded within the tread. The small spikes don’t seem to extend out far. However, with the weight of the vehicle on them studded snow tires provide additional traction. The studs grip ice better and pierce through snow. This becomes most beneficial in severe winter conditions. However, it’s important to note that studded tires can also damage road surfaces that are not covered in snow and ice most of the time. That is why their use is regulated in many areas.

snow tire installation
Mobile Snow Tire Installation near Wasilla, Alaska

When and Where to Use Winter Tires

Geographical Considerations: If you’re traveling frequently or living in regions where temperatures frequently fall below freezing, winter tires are advised. This is especially true for areas known for frequent heavy snowfall or icy conditions. So, you’ll often find residents in Alaska, parts of the Midwest, and mountainous regions keeping a set of snow tires for winter use.

Timing: Many regions with harsh winter conditions have specific dates for when studded tires can legally be used. Case in point: We’ll be keeping our new studded snow tires on the truck until spring, when Alaka DOT studded tire regulations state we must remove them by April 15. Studded snow tires are allowed to be used on public roads north of 60° North Latitude in Alaska starting September 15.

It’s funny how the extent of the “General Travel Information” provided by the Alaska Dept. of Transportation consists of studded tire regulations and how to report potholes. Funny peculiar, not funny ha ha. But I digress. It’s essential to check local regulations for studded tire use depending on your travel plans.

But really, when should you use snow tires. If traveling on icy and snow covered roads for extended periods, I suggest putting on studded tires before you need them. After the first good freeze and as soon as allowed by law.

Legal Aspects of Using Studded Tires

It’s important to note that in some states, use of studded snow tires is only allowed during specific winter months. Meanwhile, other states may have restrictions based on weather conditions or only permit rubber studs. Therefore, it’s essential to check local regulations for studded tire use depending on your travel plans.

Benefits of Winter Tires

Enhanced Safety: The most significant benefit of winter tires is increased safety. They reduce the likelihood of accidents in winter conditions by providing better grip and shorter stopping distances.

Improved Performance: Winter tires improve handling in cold, snowy, or icy conditions. This can be a crucial factor for RVers who need to maintain control of larger vehicles.

Peace of Mind: Most importantly if you ask me, studded snow tires provide reassurance of safety. Having now felt the difference between skating across the highway and confidently accelerating on ice, I’m certain we made the right choice to buy snow tires.

installing snow tires
Getting Snow Tires Installed…in the Snow

Where to Get Snow Tires in Willow, Alaska

With memories of our nightmare highway dance fresh on my mind, I had no desire to drive two hours on icy roads to get snow tires installed. Not when we still had our “all season” tires on the truck. That’s why I’m glad Rene found Yohanan’s Mobile Tire Service in Wasilla. I met him halfway and watched while he installed studded snow tires on our Dodge Ram behind the Three Bears market in Houston. I was more than happy to walk around in the freezing temps for an hour, knowing that the drive home would be much less nerve wracking.

winter driving
Safe and Sound at Home in Alaska

For any full-time RVer, adapting to changing conditions is part of the lifestyle. And, when it comes to winter driving, installing snow tires is not just a matter of convenience but one of personal safety. We’ve discovered that all-season tires suffice in milder conditions. However, switching to winter tires, specifically studded snow tires, can ensure safer travels in icy conditions. So, the right time to switch to snow tires isn’t after a close call on icy roads – it’s before your journey into winter begins.

3 thoughts on “When to Buy Snow Tires? When Your Life Depends on Them!”

  1. I’m glad you are safe! That sliding is a scary feeling ….lack of control.
    I remember studded tires in upstate NY. I’m not sure they even allow them any more.


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