Cabin Life | Winter Driving Conditions in Tollgate

What is it like to live in a mountain community where the roads are snow-covered from November to May? A place where the entrance has a big sign stating 4×4 and chains are required to climb the hill. A sign that is regularly ignored, resulting in vehicles being left immobilized or stuck alongside of the steep canyon road. Well, we’ve been dealing with this for a few months now, and I will tell you first hand, every single day is an adventure.

Plowing Routes

First off, which roads get plowed and which do not? Shown in the photo below, is a road map of the community. The roads highlighted in green, are plowed by the HOA, which are the main roads up the canyon to the winter parking/service lot. No off-shoot roads are officially plowed by the HOA. The HOA uses regular plow trucks to clear the deep snowfall we get up on the mountain; however, it is not cleared down to the ground. There is a perpetual layer of packed snow that is left the entire year. And during the warm days and cold nights, that packed snow can turn to icy and quite dangerous. But that makes for perfect conditions for us residents to ride our snowmobiles around all winter long!

As for the rest of the roads, it’s left up to the community. The roads shown in blue are plowed by the neighbors on that loop or road. For example, our loop has a Co-Op we pay into each year to cover the snow removal to the main HOA plowed road. One of the neighbors has a big tractor that we “borrow” each winter and pay them and the plowers accordingly. This is similar to how much of the mountain gets by throughout the winter, which really engages the entire community to get the snow off the roads so the year-rounders can get to and from work each day.

And for the roads not highlighted in blue or green, they are un-plowed and will remain that way until summer comes back. So the only way to access them is by snowmobile, skis, or snowshoes. Some neighbors on the mountain have told us that this used to be the case for almost every house 10 years ago. Wow have times changed.

Getting Stuck

Second, what happens if (when) you get stuck? Getting stuck is almost a guarantee, even for the most proficient, experienced drivers on the mountain. Realistically, tow trucks will not come help you, and if they do, expect to pay at least $500. So we rely on the community and our neighbors. When a vehicle is stuck, for whatever the reason, most passerby will stop top help. It is especially expected of you to help if you have a truck. Everyone will help dig the tires out, push if needed, otherwise, hook up tow straps to the stuck vehicle and the nearest big truck to give it a tow out of the precarious position. Or in this case, hope an off-roader is coming up the mountain and can use his winch to help pull you out!

During the first consistent snowfall in early December, I was involved in three vehicle recoveries three days in a row. A lot of weekenders assumed they could make it up/down the snow covered road in their AWD cars with summer (all-season) tires. I just pull over and help where I can. The quickest solution is always to try and dig the car out and throw recovery boards underneath the tires to add traction, and give the vehicle a hard push. But every time, so far, we’ve needed to hook a tow strap up to the vehicle and give it a tow. Usually, each time, 1-3 passing trucks will stop to help. The main road up the canyon, where everyone gets stuck, is a narrow road, which results in a long line of people waiting for the stuck vehicle to be cleared before they can pass. So you better hope you got stuck for a good reason, and not because you weren’t prepared, or everyone will be very pissed.

Gear

Lastly, what gear and supplies do you need to be prepared for a winter of driving up and down the snow covered mountain roads? You are required to have snow tires and/or chains to come up the canyon road. And no, big, meaty off-road tires are not substitutes for a good snow tire and you definitely cannot make it up the road with all-season tires. The rest of the gear I was told to have, that sits in a container in my truck bed, is as follows: Chains, Tow Strap, Shovel, Recovery Boards, Hitch Shackle, Winter Gloves, Ratchet Straps, Blankets, and Water. It’s important to not only have the gear necessary, but the knowledge on how to use it. If you get stuck, be ready to help dig and also where to hook up a tow strap to your vehicle in order to get pulled out.

Well there you have it. Every single drive up the canyon to our cabin is an adventure. We never know what the conditions will be like, how much snow will be at the top, if they plowed or not, or if there is a vehicle stuck that might have you waiting for an hour until you can pass. And I wouldn’t change it for the world, it keeps it interesting every single day.

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