Winter Driving is…

  1. Never knowing what kind of road to expect. Icy, slushy or only wet? The water changes so much with the temperature, that each time you go for a drive, it’s a lottery. One day, it might be quite cold and the road is perfectly drivable, and on the following day, it starts snowing and the temperature suddenly reaches 0 ºC, and everything starts melting.
  2. Having to drive with both hands on the steering wheel! Yes, if it’s Summer, I will hand my left arm out of the window…
  3. Leaving a much longer distance between the car ahead of you.
  4. Avoiding the use of brakes; instead, using the gearbox is a much wiser decision. That’s why I would never have an automatic car, if I have to drive on icy roads! If you really have to brake, do it. Bear in mind, however, that not much you have trained before will help you on this moment of panic.
  5. Adjusting your speed at all times. Personally, I do not feel comfortable driving over 70 km/h, if it is snowing heavily, and visibility gets massively reduced.
  6. Being aware of certain areas, where you know, for sure, your car will slide: roundabouts and intersections packed with ice, some sharp highway exits…
  7. Not stopping if you are going uphill, but not speeding up, either. Your wheels will start spinning!
  8. Never overestimating your/your car capabilities. It might be the best car in the world, and you might be the most experienced driver, but things change when driving on snow/ice. Don’t get overconfident just because you have a 4WD. I’ve seen a lot of cars in the ditch, supposedly much safer than mine.
  9. Checking tyres conditions regularly. It might be the best Winter tyre, but if it’s worn out, it will only be good as a Summer tyre. Speaking of tyres, don’t get overconfident, just because you have studded tyres, instead of the friction ones.
  10. Assuming all other drivers are amateurs. Even if you never had an accident, there are very bad drivers on the loose. These people have no idea how dangerous their reckless behaviour is, and they should not even be allowed to leave home on a sledge.

Strange as it might be, I feel a lot safer driving in Sweden than in Portugal. In fact, even with good weather conditions, there are already more deaths in car accidents in Portugal than in Sweden. Swedish drivers are generally careful and patient, and know what it means to drive in Winter conditions.

In Sweden, it is mandatory to have a “Winter Driving Course” when taking the driver’s license. Besides that, if you have to drive as part of your job, you will take part on one of these sessions, to get some knowledge/practice on this subject.

Apart from all this, I keep a thermal blanket in my car, and some chocolates, excluding all that Winter paraphernalia one must have on the trunk. Just in case.

In addition to all these dangers, driving on a snowy road is a great pleasure! You just have to get used to it 😉

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Winter clothing in the Nordics

A lot of people ask me how it is to survive a real Winter. They would be surprised that, even though, Winters here are for real, one tends to feel a lot more comfortable.

Firstly, the construction is done properly. Double or tripled glazed windows are common, and not a luxury. Losses of energy are minimized, with 2 or 3 doors, rugs, and a lot of wood! There is no such thing as a cold freezing floor on tiles… The heating system is very efficient, regardless of what kind of energy you use (luckily, the cost is also half of what one pays in Portugal).

Secondly, you wear decent clothes. Not in amount (I know some Portuguese were already wearing jackets in September, when it was still 25 ºC!), but in quality. From my experience, 3 pieces are enough; 4 if it is extremely cold or you plan to spend a long time outside. The most important is the absence of weak zones – zones where the cold/wind can catch you off guard and freeze you! A good pair of wool socks and a nice pair of insulated rubber boots are the starting point for you to keep your body comfortable. Body extremities feel the cold more, and if you are like me, you know how important it is to keep feet and hands warm. A decent pair of gloves, with several layers of protection, and a hat with earmuffs, are amongst the most important items to keep you warm. If it is extremely cold, you might want to consider an inner layer of thermal underwear, made from wool, specially if you are not going to do sports. Finally, a warm jacket, water and windproof, and the same for the pants. You can survive several hours outside in the cold – I’ve tested it =)

It also helps the fact that we always have a hot sauna to turn to, wherever we are!

After spending some time here, you will soon find that you have more gloves than handbags, more hunting socks than stockings, and so on… Your hallway is filled up with different kinds of jackets, and at least, 4 different types of gloves. A good thing is that an umbrella is a rarely used item in Sweden, and I’m glad it is that way. I’d rather get snowflakes on my hair, than raindrops…

Come to the Arctic – if you dare!