Updated: Dec 2014
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FAQ on Snow Chains
- Are they mandatory ?
- The roads into Combloux and other ski resorts have a blue sign, as shown, marked "Equipement d'hiver Obligatoire". On such roads, the french law (1977) requires metal chains to be carried and, when conditions require it, to be fitted on at least two driving wheels. So YES, by law, there are no exceptions.
- What about snow tyres ?
- In practice, snow tyres usually work as well, or better than chains, especially on a 4*4 BUT the law stipulates chains - snow (winter) tyes are optional - and there are (rare) conditions when chains do provide better grip. In practice, most people use winter tyres and carry chains in the boot only because of the legal requirement.
- What about a 4x4 ?
- Yes. The law applies equally to 4*4 vehicles. BEWARE, unless the manufacturers specify otherwise, chains must be fitted on all four wheels of a 4*4. If only two chains are fitted the vehicle is MORE likely to skid and lose control.
- Are there spot checks ?
- We have only once heard of police checking cars coming up to Combloux. There was heavy snow on the road and they turned back cars not fitted with chains - OR snow tyres!
- What's the risk ?
- Without snow-chains or winter tyres you are more likely to suffer delays; or damage in a low speed accident. Perhaps the worst risk is that if you are involved in an incident or cause a hold up which is judged to be your fault, not having chains could invalidate your insurance. (It is also worth knowing that, unlike England, there is a "good samaritan" law in France requiring people to stop and give assistance if needed.)
- Are there many accidents ?
- Yes, cars often go off course, but they are quickly dealt with. I think it usually involves poor driving. The important thing is to drive carefully, minimise acceleration and braking, and stay in low gear. Leave plenty of space for other drivers to make mistakes.
- On hire cars ?
- Make sure chains are provided even if there is a surcharge. They may not be provided by default especially on small vehicles. It is the driver's responsibility.
- Buy or hire chains ?
- It may be worth hiring chains if you only expect to make one trip in your own car. However, research this because it may be cheaper to buy chains in France (from Feu Vert or most petrol stations and supermarkets south of Dijon) than to hire them in the UK. Make sure the exact tyre size e.g. 195/55-14 is listed on the packaging
- ALSO, think very seriously about buying winter tyres, which are safer in cold weather, even without snow. And while they are fitted your summer tyres are not wearing out!
- NOTE that good snow chains are easier to fit, grip better, and are more durable than cheap ones. So if you do not have winter tyres, buy good chains - if you do have winter tyres cheap chains will satisfy the legal requirement.
- Why buy Winter Tyres ?
- Winter tyres are not just for snow. They are safer for normal driving in cold weather below about 8°C. Mid-range e.g. Kuhmo tyres are good and cost about the same as summer tyres and while they are on your summer tyres are not wearing! The rubber compound is softer for grip in the cold and they have a deep tread with lots of sipes (cuts to provide more gripping edges). It is amazing how well they grip on snow.
- In the UK, we fit winter tyres in November and switch back to summer tyres after March. Our tyre supplier charges very little for this service. We recommend buying extra wheels, e.g. online, to make switching easier (or DIY) and less strain on the tyres.
Tips - on driving on snow
There is a definite skill to be learned before you can get the best traction up a snowy slope. It is a matter of keeping the wheels slowly turning and staying on fresh, firm or frozen snow.
Tyres grip better when it is really cold. Traction is more of a problem when temperatures are near to zero, when ice build up under the snow, or when slush forms. Freshly falling snow can be a bit like soap flakes to drive on, seems ok but don't hit the brakes.
Local roads are ploughed pretty quickly and effectively between about 8am and 5pm but chains are often needed during and for a few hours after snowfalls especially if you arrive late in the evening.
At our apartments, the bend coming up from chalet la Biche can be slippery so it is sometimes wise to either park at the top or keep chains on overnight.
If you get stuck in snow without chains, a rubber floor mat might just provide that extra bit of traction to get you free.
Tips - on using chains
Study the instructions and practice in advance - Kerbside at night in a blizzard is no place to read instructions!.
The canopy of a petrol station can be a welcome place to fit or remove chains. At our apartments it is smart to drive down into the car park under the tennis court.
Chains should be fitted tightly over fully inflated tyres. Usually you pass a cable behind the tyre, loop it together on the top of the wheel and lower it to the far side of the tyre and then use some kind of rachet or tensioner to tighten the chain from your side.
Keep a torch and old gloves or a rag in the car. Old ski gaters are good to protect your ski jacket.
Also keep elastic luggage straps in your boot. They are very effective on a broken or loose chain.