Pop quiz: What’s the most common and deadly activity people do during the winter? Hint: You probably don’t think this activity is extreme.
Could it be skiing or snowboarding? During the winter of 2011-2012, around 9.8 million people braved the ice and snow to take to the mountains on skis or a snowboard. But during that season only 54 people died on the slopes. In comparison, an average of 1,300 people are killed in car wrecks each winter. Driving is the most deadly activity, perhaps simply because we do so much of it.
Without fun winter activities like skiing, the snowy months of the year would be full of boredom. But for the 70 percent of people who live in regions that get snow, winter recreation is a dangerous prospect, fraught with peril from hazardous road conditions.
With that in mind, the question is, do you need snow tires? The answer is a resounding yes. A quality set of snow tires is absolutely essential to ensure you can hit the slopes, climb aboard a snowmobile, or strap on your snowshoes this winter.
Are Snow Tires Worth It?
The seasoned winter recreationist typically has a lot of experience driving in the snow. If that’s you, no doubt your confidence level is high. You know how to drive on snow and ice. Instinctively, you know how to turn the wheel into a skid, how long it takes to come to a stop, how fast you should go on windy roads. The only thing you can’t account for is what other drivers are going to do. Plenty of people on the road aren’t experienced winter drivers, which explains the fatality rate of 1,300 deaths a year.
Consumer Reports conducted a survey to determine if snow tires are worth it, and found that “they easily outperform most all-season tires when it comes to traveling, stopping, and cornering on snow-covered roads.” In Quebec, Canada, snow tires reduced the number of winter accidents by 5 percent and lowered the number of injuries and deaths by 3 percent. To put that in perspective, snow tires could help save about 39 lives every year here in America.
Why Are Snow Tires Necessary?
Snow tires could save your life—even the smallest difference in stopping time can make all the difference. But what is it about these tires that makes them a necessity in the snow? And what if you have a four-wheel-drive vehicle?
Truck Trend explains that snow tires are necessary, even for your four-wheel-drive, because they offer superior traction. Although four-wheel-drive helps you accelerate, it doesn’t do the work of snow tires for turning and stopping. That’s because a snow tire’s tread pattern is more “aggressive” and open than an all-season tire’s tread. Truck Trend says the tread pattern “allows the snow to pack into the tire, creating snow-on-snow traction.” This type of traction actually improves a tire’s performance in the snow.
Another factor is the composition of the tire. A snow tire is made from a softer rubber compound, which includes silica, a substance that provides great grip. Softer rubber is flexible and yields the best traction on all surfaces, but is particularly suited to cold temperatures, because it deteriorates faster in the heat. All-season tires are made of a harder rubber compound, which helps them maintain integrity during the summer, but makes them minimally effective in the snow.
Do Snow Tires Really Work?
To answer this question, it helps to look at reviews and tests. Of the snow tires with customer reviews in our shop, the Vredestein Xtreme S has earned five-star reviews for how it handles in the snow, as well as its low road noise, due to advanced design. On independent consumer review site TiresTest.com, 56 reviewers rated the Snowtrac near perfect in all categories, including braking and traction. That’s a great track record. Vredestein makes a fantastic snow tire, but since it’s a European manufacturer, you won’t find as much information on it here in America as you will for a tire like the Michelin X-Ice.
The X-Ice is a new, state-of-the-art snow tire. In comparison with the other top brands, the X-Ice rates second, right behind the Nokian Hakkapeliitta R2. In objective tests, it does just as well as the Hakkapeliitta when it comes to snow acceleration, snow braking, and ice braking. It did lose a point on ice acceleration, but the bonus is the X-Ice costs nearly $50 less per tire than the Hakkapeliitta. For winter sports enthusiasts who aren’t planning on racing anyone on ice anytime soon, the X-Ice offers excellent performance and leaves some cash leftover for fun.
When Is the Best Time to Buy Snow Tires?
It’s a good idea to get snow tires before winter hits because snowstorms and blizzards can swoop in fast. You’ll be the first one up the hill to catch the fresh powder. It’s also a good idea because tire rebates and special offers often end by the end of the year. Be sure to check the current tire rebates (link: https://www.tires-easy.com/rebate) that include winter tires, and save on your budget while increasing your safety on winter roads.
Regardless of rebates, look for snow tires throughout October and November, because that’s the window of time during which manufacturers want to push their inventory out the door. That’s when you’ll find sales and competitive pricing. And once you have your snow tires on, you’ll be ready for anything the winter season throws at you.