How Not To Drive Your Minivan Up A Snowy Mountain

I get a pit in my stomach every time I think of this story. We’ve passed all chain-up areas, the wheels are spinning and we can go no further. See what happens next!

Oh no! How did we get ourselves into this mess? When the van stops we need to jump out and quickly throw chains on the wheels. Are you ready?

I get a pit in my stomach every time I think about this story.

The snowplow is coming toward our family of 5 in our minivan, we have passed all the chain-up areas, the wheels are starting to spin, and there is a line of cars behind us excited to hit the slopes for a day of skiing and snowboarding.

I know exactly how it happened. We took a risk for the sake of time and it





There were several valuable lessons this Vancouver Island family learned about taking our minivan up Mount Washington that day and we hope our ridiculous story could actually save your life, so you better read on.

5 Ways How Not To Drive Your Minivan Up A Snowy Mountain

1.  Don’t practise putting on your chains ahead of time.

It was dark. It was late. It was raining. The kids wanted to get to the Holiday Inn and the guy who rented us chains the night before our ski trip said “It’s simple, you’ll have no problem” as he quickly showed us how to put chains on our van. I was so confident it wasn’t going to snow the next day I stayed in the van with the kids while Gretta got the tutorial.

I told Gretta it was actually because I had so much confidence in her abilities. That’s why I stayed in the van.

However, I have since learned that just because you have chains in your vehicle doesn’t mean they will magically attach themselves to your wheels when you need them.

Get fully comfortable with putting on chains before you need them. Otherwise it’s kind of like jumping on a pit team during the Indy 500 and thinking to yourself, really how hard can it be?

2. Ignore the snow coming down.

It doesn’t matter how excited you are to get on the chairlift; rain at the bottom of the mountain could very well mean a blizzard and accumulating snow at the top. Really, there should have been about four or five different weather forecasts that day for our drive up the mountain. Rain, freezing rain, sleet, snow, BLIZZARD!

3. Carry chains but don’t put them on.  

The time to put chains on your vehicle is before, and let me repeat that, BEFORE you get to the point where your wheels start spinning in the middle of a mountain road covered with snow and no where to pull over. We passed several conveniently located chain-up areas heading up the mountain, but hoping for the best, we waved at the drivers putting on chains and continued on.

Normally, I’m not a gambling man but the images of a happy family heading up the chairlift was all too much for me to stop and put on chains.

 4. Put your chains on in the middle of the road holding up traffic in both directions

I don’t like it, but here we are with no choice now. Our minivan would go no further and we had no choice but to put the hazards on, jump out and try and put chains on for the first time in our lives while we eventually stopped traffic in BOTH directions.

Almost instantly the guy behind us started swearing up a storm as apparently he was doing just fine driving up the mountain if we hadn’t forced him to loose all momentum by stopping in the middle of the road.

With our hands freezing cold and wet we began to lay out the chains like we knew what we were doing. At that point, I actually believed we really did know what we were doing because I took a picture of Gretta putting the chains on.

Honestly, it’s more likely I had nothing else to do but take a picture because it’s not like I knew how to put chains on.

All pride of being “the man’s man” and taking charge in this situation and saving my family from peril was gone.

5. Start driving with your chains on incorrectly and hope for the best

“Are the chains on? Are we good to go?” I asked Gretta.

I still remember that expression on her face as I closely studied her, looking for any assurance we wouldn’t die if I was to put the minivan into drive.

Then I heard the three most dreaded words no one wants to hear right before attempting something dangerous. “I. think. so.”

I grimaced and pressed down on the gas. Something instantly didn’t seem quite right. I had never driven in chains before, but I knew that spinning tires couldn’t be part of the experience. We were moving, but not at the rate needed to get up the mountain.

Gretta and I both got out of the van and saw right away what was wrong. One of the tires was missing the chains we had just attached. We desperately started scrambling around looking for the chains in the snow. And then it hit me. The snowplow that just drove by took the chains with him and they were gone! AHHHHHHHHH!

How Did The Story End?

We gave up. Did a six point turn right in the middle of the traffic jam we created and slowly made our way down the mountain from whence we came utterly defeated. Mountain 1 –  Traveling Islanders 0.

Thankfully throughout all of this, the kids were so afraid that they sat motionless in their seats. Albeit terrified, but an unusual quiet I really appreciated in amongst the chaos.

Two hours later we finally made it up Mount Washington in a shuttle bus. We rescheduled the kids’ ski and snowboard lessons and had a fantastic first time mountain experience.

Celebrating the arrival at the top of the mountain!

The next day Gretta and I harnessed our collective wisdom and purchased our own set of chains, practiced in the parking lot, and watched a few youtube videos until we felt like pros.

The second time as we drove up Mount Washington we both had an inner poise about us ready to take on this treacherous mountain and subdue it.

Never again would we be that “Vancouver Island minivan family” who looked more like we were from the Caribbean Islands experiencing snow for the first time than Canadians of the Great White North. We now know how to put chains on our vehicle and will never forget it! And really, it is quite simple after all.

Alas, it was a full sunny day with dry roads all the way to the top.

For the rest of our Mount Washington ski trip we stayed in a slope side ski lodge 2 minutes from the chairlift. Things couldn’t have looked any better from the hot tub as foot after foot of snow completely covered our minivan.

This would have all made much more sense if our last name was “Grizwald”, wouldn’t it?

Mount Washington Evergreen Lodge, Mount Washington Alpine Resort, Ski lessons on Mount Washington, Mount Washington Snow School, Comox Valley, Traveling Islanders

Thinking about becoming a skiing and snowboarding family like we are?

Mount Washington is outstanding when it comes to teaching kids and adults of all ages how to ski and snowboard. Read more: How To Become A Skiing And Snowboarding Family This Winter! 

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