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How to drive in the Colorado snow in case you’re new to the state or just simply forgot

Winter is coming, and many Colorado newbies may be freaking out if this is their first time driving in the snow. But as long as you follow a few simple rules, you won't have to worry about much
Posted: 9:45 PM, Nov 22, 2023
Updated: 2023-12-12 18:50:21-05
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DENVER – Brush off those winter driving hats because snow is coming back to the Denver metro area and that can only mean one thing: It's time to winterize your car.

If you're new to the state or even if you've been here for a while, it's worth remembering that Colorado has some special laws regarding winter driving and there are some things you need to consider before heading out the door with your vehicle. 

Here are some tips for keeping you and your car safe while traveling in Colorado’s winter weather:


Tires are among the most important things you can invest in for winter driving, as worn tires can't grip the road well which can turn into a potentially dangerous experience. A good test to see if you need new tires requires just a single quarter.

Take the quarter, turn it upside down, and put it into your tire tread – Washington’s head goes upside-down. If your tire’s tread covers his head, your tires are OK. But if his head is poking out, you should probably look into getting a new set.

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All-season tires are a good suggestion if you can only afford one new set since they’ll get you through most of Colorado’s ever-changing weather conditions. But in the winter, snow tires are strongly suggested for most vehicles and are necessary for some.

The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) will put in place traction or chain laws at times during periods of heavy snow. From Sept. 1 to May 31, all cars driving the 126-mile stretch on I-70 between Dotsero and Morrison must carry traction law equipment or be traction law compliant.

The state's traction law, also known as Code 15, requires vehicles to either have four-wheel or all-wheel drive; as an alternative, to have snow tires or mud/snow tires; or if your vehicle doesn’t fit into either of those categories, have tire chains or another alternative traction device, like an AutoSock.

"The traction law requires that two-wheel drive vehicles have winter appropriate tires, which may have the mountain snowflake symbol on the side or mud and snow sigma symbol on the side of them," said Andy Hogle, a CDOT spokesperson.

During snow and icy conditions, the minimum tread depth for tires on all vehicles — including those with four-wheel drive — have increased from an eighth of an inch (1/8") to three-sixteenths of an inch (3/16").

These tires usually have an "M" or "M+S" designation on the tire.

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But when conditions get really bad, CDOT will implement the Passenger Vehicle Chain Law, known as Code 16, which requires every vehicle on the road to have either chains or an alternative traction device. CDOT has partnered with many Denver-area tire shops to offer discounts. Any drivers with equipment that doesn’t meet standards at the time face fines between $130 and $650. For more information from CDOT on the traction and chain laws, click here.


Car batteries should be checked as the cold weather will suck some of their energy, causing the batteries not to perform as well. Batteries operate between 30% and 60% worse in weather under 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

"If it's been warning you for the past several months that it is not up to the cold weather, if it's older than three to five years old, consider replacement before you head out," said AAA Colorado regional director Skyler McKinley. "That's gonna save you a breakdown, it's gonna save you a headache. That's going to keep you on your way and it's going to keep our road crews safe so we don't have to fix your battery at the roadside."

Before heading out, be sure your antifreeze is rated for winter conditions and is filled up. Also be sure your oil is rated for the temperatures you’ll be driving in (most 10W-30 and 5W-30 oils perform at all temperatures).

Some no-freeze washer fluid could also prove worthwhile as certain washer fluids that are heavily water-based can freeze. In winter driving conditions, snow, ice and salt from the roads can cause windshields to become cloudy as they accumulate more gunk from the road.

Also be sure your brakes are working well and that the brake fluid is at the correct level. Mountain driving brings steep inclines and declines and sharp curves, and when the roads are slick, stopping times can be multiplied by up to six times the stopping times during normal conditions.

And lastly, don't forget to check your windshield wipers by making sure they operate properly. They will be life savers in case of a blizzard. McKinley said you should be replacing your wiper blades two-to-three times a year in Colorado. If they're not in top shape, get news a.s.a.p.


Make sure to thoroughly scrape all windows and brush snow off your entire car, including the roof, before exiting your driveway.

It’s not just a courtesy for drivers who may be behind you during your commute — it’s the law in some states. You don’t want to be responsible for causing a crash due to chunks of snow falling from your car.

Please, do not be "that guy" (or gal) and help keep roads safe by taking the extra time to perform this simple task.


Roads can be tricky and you may be over-confident when taking the wheel in snowy conditions, which is why you should really be cautious when exiting your driveway (black ice, anyone?).

Some cars have traction control or a winter mode that helps. If you have an automatic transmission that allows second-gear starts, select that gear for better traction.

When on the road, reduce your speed to lessen the chance of a skid. Also, avoid any sudden inputs to the steering, throttle or brakes. Use lower gears when decelerating to allow the engine to slow the car. Imagine yourself driving with a hot cup of coffee in your lap — this should give you a general idea of how you should be driving during a snowstorm.

"Really, slowing down is the most important thing you can be doing when you're operating your motor vehicle on the road," Hogle said.

To that end, earlier this year, Gov. Jared Polis signed into law HB23-1123, requiring drivers to move over a lane whenever they encounter any stationary vehicle on a highway with its hazards flashing — and if they can't move over, they must slow down to at least 20 mph below the posted speed limit.


When driving in normal conditions, you should usually give yourself between three to five seconds of stopping distance between your car and the one in front of you. In slick roads, double that amount and adjust that number depending on how bad conditions get outside.

"A good rule of thumb — I know this is basic — but good rule of thumb is one car length per 10 miles per hour that you are traveling," said Colorado State Patrol Sergeant Troy Kessler. "Another rule of thumb that you've heard, probably, is two seconds from the time a vehicle passes a fixed object to the time you pass that same object."

Don't pump the brakes: Let your car’s antilock brakes do the work for you, unless you’re driving a really old car that doesn't have antilock brakes. Check your owner’s manual to check if your car has these types of brakes.

If your driving under bridges and overpasses, lift your feet off the accelerator. Yes, snow plows will have more than likely passed through these areas, but it's best to be extra careful when driving under a bridge or an overpass — there may be ice, snow, or both, causing you to spin out and lose control, potentially creating a crash.

"Space is your friend. And space is even more important in winter driving conditions," said Kessler. "The space that you can control (in front and to your sides) will ultimately keep you safer. It'll allow you to react to those potential hazards on a roadway or other traffic in front of you and to some extent allows you to influence the drivers behavior behind you."

Regarding snowplows: Colorado law states it is illegal for drivers to pass a snowplow operating in tandem formation with one or more snowplows. The snowplows have the right-of-way. In general, it’s best to stay safely behind plows.


Don't text, don't TikTok, don't Snap, don't record an Instagram reel, don't go live on Facebook — and please, don't try to BeReal while driving during a snowstorm.

In short: Don't get distracted.

If you're going to heed any of the tips given in this article, this should be the most important one to take to heart. 


So you've been here a while and know how congested the I-70 corridor can get during the winter and want to avoid it after years on the road? No problem! Just hop on the Snowstang!

What's the Snowstang, you ask? It's CDOT's answer to getting to (some) of Colorado's ski resorts for those who want to save on gas and avoid the hectic traffic at the same time. Starting at $25 (children get 50% off fare price), the Snowstang service can take you to A-Basin, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Loveland Ski Area and Steamboat Springs.

Be warned, however, that Snowstang season starts a little later than ski season. For more information about Snowstang schedules, fares, routes and more, click here. Snowstang runs each winter through early May.

Not a skier but still going to the mountains? The I-70 Coalition, a nonprofit organization made up of businesses and local governments throughout the mountain corridor, is partnering with a carpool app from Colorado called TreadShare, which connects drivers and passengers that are heading to the same destination and allows them to share a ride and split the travel costs, according to the coalition's executive director, Margaret Bowes.

The coalition also posts a travel forecast every Thursday specific to that coming weekend so those that are heading to the mountains can plan the trip the mountains ahead of time to avoid the congestion.

"It looks at historical traffic data, at weather, and other factors that could impact someone's trip and we give folks the best and the worst times to travel so that they can avoid that infamous weekend and holiday traffic," Bowes said.

That travel forecast can be accessed at the coalition's website here.


Be sure to stock your car with an emergency kit filled with a flashlight, jumper cables, extra warm clothes (including blankets, jackets, gloves, etc.), kitty litter (for traction purposes), flares and an ice scraper. In the event you become stopped in traffic during a highway closure or end up off the road waiting to be rescued, some of these essentials could save your life. Non-perishable food and water is also good to have in your car during the winter.

CDOT also recommends you download the COtrip Planner app as it'll provide you with the latest traffic conditions across the state.

If you have any questions about whether your car is ready for winter, head into a local mechanic for it to be checked out and tuned up if necessary. 

Driving in snowy Colorado: Who's really to blame?You know how to drive in the snow, it's just everyone else who's the problem — right?! Or is it all those out-of-state drivers or elite natives with bald tires flying down I-25 in SUV’s? Clearly it depends on who you ask, so Denver7 took a 360 look at the multiple perspectives around driving in our snow-covered Colorado.