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Driving to the Alps? Essential winter tyre information you need to know


It’s arguably more relaxing too. There’s something to be said for avoiding long airport queues, lugging suitcases and equipment around, and transfers. With the car you simply drive from door to door, all the way to wherever you’re holiday destination is.

That said, it’s not effortless. You do need to think carefully about your car, and in particular your tyres. In our latest driver safety article, Protyre takes a look at the rules on mainland Europe regarding winter tyres and chains.

Driving to – or through – France?

Depending on where you live in the UK, driving to the French Alps in one – admittedly long – day is achievable. If you’re setting off from the south east, expect to be in the car for around ten or eleven hours. Many self-drive skiers heading for France choose to holiday at resorts like Chamonix, Morzine and Méribel.

If you’re heading for the Italian Alps by car it does of course take a little bit longer, but that’s certainly achievable in a day, and plenty of people make this journey too. Typical destinations for skiing include places like Sestrière, Cervinia and Courmayeur. To get to Italy you need to drive through France for most of the way, before crossing the border via the Mont Blanc tunnel.

Driving essentials and obligations

When you’re driving in or through France, by law you must have a standard set of items in your car. These include a breathalyser kit, high visibility vests, and a warning triangle. All can easily be purchased online, or if you leave it to the last moment can be picked up at the Euro Tunnel terminal in Folkestone. But what about tyres?

In both France and Italy, winter tyres are legally compulsory “in certain areas”. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that the mountain areas in winter qualify for this status. As such you will need to fit winter tyres. It’s also worth noting that chains are not a substitute for winter tyres.

Premium tyre makers, like Continental Tyres, offer a comprehensive range of winter tyres for all types of cars, allowing drivers to be better protected in cold temperature conditions. Options include the WinterContact TS 860, designed for cold, icy and snowy weather conditions. It’s a true winter specialist.

An important point worth clarifying with winter tyres is that – contrary to many people’s beliefs – they are not simply for driving on snow. In fact winter tyres are designed to be driven in cold temperature conditions, whether there’s snow or no snow.

Why? Because the rubber compounds they’re made from are developed to provide optimal grip when the temperature is 7°C or below. It’s what primarilly differentiates them from summer tyres. This means you’re not only buying winter tyres for the last few miles of your journey up a snowy mountain to your chalet, they’ll keep you driving safely for the entire trip.

What about tyre chains?

Even with winter tyres, you’ll still need to employ chains. One word of caution though. Time and time again the uninitiated Brit makes the mistake of putting the chains on at the foot of the mountain, in anticipation of snowy roads ahead. On the continent we’re known for it. You should never do this.

Why? Because you’ll not only damage your tyres, your speed – and just as importantly that of the vehicles behind you – will slow to an intolerable crawl. The resultant traffic chaos will only increase the likelihood of dangerous overtaking, as fellow motorists get more and more impatient.

Top tip: To use chains effectively, only put them on your tyres when there’s a significant amount of snow on the road that your winter tyres can’t grip, such as when the inclines get steeper.

Driving to Switzerland or Austria?

If you’re heading to a resort in the west of Switzerland – such as Verbier or Zermatt – your travel route will more likely than not take you through France. As such, the previous guidance, above, needs to be in your thoughts. When it comes to using winter tyres, Switzerland has pretty much the same rules as in France.

If instead you’re heading to the east side of Switzerland – think of resorts like Flims or Klosters –  or if you’re travelling into Austria for resorts such as St Anton or Lech – you’ll need to drive through several countries, but for most of your journey you’ll be on German roads.

In Germany and Austria, you’re legally obliged to drive with winter tyres (which have the “M+S” symbol on the tyre wall) between November and April – snow or no snow. In the unfortunate event of an accident, if you’re involved in an incident and your car is not fitted with them – whether it’s your fault or not – you will be deemed responsible.

As a result you’ll not only face punishment commensurate with the laws of the land, you’ll also incur an additional fine if – as a result of not having winter tyres – the accident caused delays for other drivers.

And whether you have an accident or not, there are also other huge fines, especially in Austria, where they can reach up to €5,000 (approximately £4,500) if you’re stopped by the police and found to not have winter tyres fitted.

Winter tyres: They’re not just for skiing holidays

The fact is, we Brits are simply not attuned to changing our tyres for winter weather conditions – when it’s cold. The UK climate means we typically don’t get that much snow, and as a result – mistakenly – we don’t feel we need them. This misconception couldn’t be further from the truth.

If you’re driving to the Alps each year, winter tyres are an essential investment, one that will also make your car safer to drive during the winter months when you return to the UK.

Want professional advice? Speak to an expert at your local Protyre garage about winter tyres. They’ll provide you with experienced, impartial advice, as well as fitting solutions.

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