No Snow On The Slopes; Just Enough To Bury Your Car

Tired of skiing and snowboarding Old Main? Don’t have enough money for a season pass at Beaver Mountain? Don’t mind a hike and have your own snowshoes? Look no further. In a new BluePrint series, writer Evan Thacker will search for the best backcountry skiing and snowboarding around Logan. He’ll ski and rate its location based on several factors, including distance from campus, amount of hiking involved, terrain details, and amount of untracked snow after last snow fall.

But this month, due to circumstances out of his control, Thacker never quite made it onto the slopes. So, for his first outdoors sports column, he’ll give us some advice on what to do if your car gets stuck in the snow.

How to dig a car out of the snow

By Evan Thacker

Perhaps you have gotten ahead of yourself before. You’re about to get to your ski destination, then all of sudden your car slides off the road, into a ditch and you’re stuck there all day digging it out. Well, that’s what happened to my ski and snowboard team in our past adventure.

What do you do first?

Step 1: Assess the situation, making sure that everyone and everything in the car is OK. Next, you check for oncoming traffic and see what the situation is outside of the car. Make sure to look for any major damage or things that would inhibit you from moving the car. After that, you need to determine how the car is positioned, and if it is leveled or not. If the car is not leveled, it will most likely have to be righted — we’ll talk about what that entails later.

Step 2: Start digging along each of the four tires, working your way along the body. Make sure the tail pipe is clear of snow. If it’s not, clear the tail pipe to ensure toxic gases are released when the car is started.

Step 3: Clear away the excess snow. The easiest way to do this is to use an avalanche shovel. From experience, I’d say make sure to buy a good shovel — we had a cheap one that broke on us. Though you should always have an avalanche shovel when backcountry skiing, a plastic trowel and a screwdriver are valuable options. A plastic trowel is a cheap shovel that can get into tight places, and will not rust. If there are any thick ice deposits on your car, a screwdriver or mallet are good tools. After acquiring the appropriate tools, begin clearing the snow away by first freeing each of the four tires. After the tires are clear, continue clearing off the snow along the front, sides, and back of the car.

Step 4: Make sure your vehicle is centered and balanced right. This is especially important if you, like me, ended up getting your four-wheel drive stuck in a ditch line somewhere. At this point, it is important to note that whenever you’re backcountry skiing, it is best to have a four-wheel drive vehicle of some kind. The problem with four-wheel drive, however, is that it is top heavy, which makes being stuck in a ditch or on steep slopes very dangerous. This fact also makes righting your vehicle extremely important. To begin righting your vehicle, first check and see which way the vehicle is tilted. If it is not obvious how the car is tilted, check underneath the car to find out. Once you figure out how the vehicle is tilted, begin digging away the snow under the car to make it more level. If possible, you can also try putting snow under the other side of the car to balance it out.

Step 5: Gain traction for each of the wheels.There are many ways to go about gaining traction for your vehicle. The first way is to put snow chains on all the tires. If you had these in your car, however, you probably would not be stuck. A second option is to have some scrap pieces of wood or two-by-fours in your car for such an occasion as this, and to place them directly in front of the wheels. Make a note to not use pieces of wood that have nails or screws still in them. A third option is to sprinkle salt, sand or cat litter around the front of the tires to give them some traction. Another option is to let some air out of the tires, but first make sure the tires are not already low. Finally, if you are desperate, use floor mats, small branches or even cut down small bushes to gain traction. It is also good to note that whatever option you choose to place in front of the tires will most likely be ruined.

If you, like me and my ski buddies, have tried all of these tips and still fail, you are left to call someone to pull you out. Preferably, I would pick someone with four-wheel drive: either a pick-up or SUV, who also has tow cables. When towing the car, make sure to have the car in neutral or to have someone driving the towed vehicle. Also make sure the tow cables are hooked to a secure location on the car. (We were unfortunate enough to see how a loose cable can break a back window.)

My final piece of advice: Be prepared. As my friend Will says, “You never know what will happen when you live in snow country.”

— For this column, Evan used his own experiences, as well as an article by about how to dig your car out of the snow,

Do you have advice or experiences you’d like to share about getting stuck in the snow? Comment below, and look for next month’s outdoor sports feature!


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