Slippery slopes

The past couple of days I spent with several of my current colleagues in a mountain hut in the Bavarian Alps. There will be some notable changes in the composition of our chair group – some influential people are leaving for good positions elsewhere, and there will soon be several new additions to our group. Obviously, this calls for a review of strategic aspects around the running of our chair group. The last few days, we discussed with the big boss about what works, and what could be better. We did this away from the common scenery, mostly to improve our focus, although the views were fine too. A fruitful two days, I think.

Our meeting was meant to end at noon. At about 10am, it started snowing. Wet snow first, soon followed by thick white flakes. The kinds that will cover the landscape quickly.

I felt a bit concerned. I’m an experienced mountain driver, and actually enjoy snow and snow driving in certain conditions.

These conditions were not met today.

My van still had summer tyres. I could only schedule a slot for tyre change next Monday…

First snow – extra tricky for various reasons.

Remote location.

15-20 degree slopes.

As I was parked on a forestry track about 300m road, I hurried outside to park my car along the main road. The dirt road was easy. The parking lot I ended up in however, was covered in frozen wet snow and a layer of fresh snow. It was also sloping. When I tried to bring the car to a halt, I felt the tires skid over the icy tarmac. I was driving 5 kmh but I took several meters to come to a halt. Notably the direction was not aligning with my steering either.

The parking lot was mostly empty, and I felt safe. I felt much less comfortable with the road, that looked no different from the parking lot. Well, it did a bit. It was narrower and had a ditch on one side and steep slopes on various stretches along the several hundreds of meters down.

I felt pretty fucking shitty about it. I decided to say bye to my colleagues, whom were lucky enough to have all weather tyres, and left before the situation would get even worse.

Once back at the car again, the situation looked worse in the short fifteen minutes that had passed. I was in serious doubt whether skidding my camper van down a narrow icy road on summer tyres was wise. I used to be more careless. Life changes when you have kids.

At the moment I pretty much decided to stay, a huge snow plow moved past, and cleared one road half of at least some of the snow.

I decided to give it a go, carefully trying on the first flat bit whether braking was possible on low speed. It was.

In first gear I descended slowly along the road that was quickly covering up in snow again, and I could feel the lack of grip on the tyres. After about four kilometers of descending road, I was in low enough altitudes for the snow to melt. A sigh of relief. Driving immediately felt more comfortable.

Morale of today’s story. Robin, get your bloody winter tyres on before November, you ass…

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

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