Safe Mountain Driving

Winter mountain driving presents unique problems and situations that require greater attention to driving skills and planning for a safe winter trip

Here are some necessary precautions to be aware of before making your next mountain visit to a Steward Observatory telescope site.IMG 0102 r

  • Loaded vehicles and mountain roads are the perfect recipe for tough handling. SLOW DOWN!
  • Use lower gears when driving down the mountain. This keeps your brakes from over heating and possibly failing.
  • Make sure you have the right type of vehicle for mountain driving in snow and ice.
  • Travel after dark is strongly discouraged. If you are traveling to or from the observatory on a weekend or after hours tell someone in the facility that you are on the road giving them your expected time of arrival — for MGIO be sure to maintain radio contact between the Base Camp and the observatory site.
  • Be prepared and carry winter supplies in your vehicle such as gloves, blanket or tarp, shovel, ice scraper, bag of kitty litter, water, food, safety glasses, snow chains bungee cords (3‐4 per tire), a barbeque grill butane lighter (to unfreeze a padlock), and a flashlight. Store snow chains separately so they do not become tangled.
  • Be aware, during the winter the road surface can become extremely hazardous , it can be covered in “black” ice or packed snow. Shady spots can hide ice and are very slippery.
  • Check the weather and road conditions before you leave: National Weather Service information. Road conditions will vary with altitude. During normal working hours, check with the MGIO Base Camp for road conditions and snow plow activity (928‐428‐2739 ). Traveling between the Base Camp and the Observatory on weekends, holidays or after hours, attempt to contact ADOT (S50‐0) on MGIO radio Channel #6 to clear access through ADOT plow operations.
  • If you are driving to Mt. Lemmon or Kitt Peak, chains are required with two‐wheeled vehicles. Make sure the chains are sized correctly for your vehicles tire size.
  • Rental cars do not come with chains. If renting from UA Motor Pool, check that the snow chains fit your vehicle tires before you leave the lot. Don’t assume they fit your vehicle.
  • If traveling to Mt. Graham, BOTH four‐wheel drive vehicle and chains are required. No two‐wheel drive vehicles to Mt. Graham are allowed. Upon arrival at the Mt. Graham Base Camp, log in at the podium inside the office and obtain a radio and gate key. Any road status, travel information or instructions will be posted at the podium.
  • Radio usage is required for Mt. Graham and for communicating with snow plow operators (both ADOT and MGIO) when traveling to and from the telescope sites.
  • Be aware that the snow plowing operation produces “soft” shoulders on both sides of the road surface. The road may seem wider because of the soft shoulders. To avoid getting stuck, stay “centered” on the road surface and be alert to oncoming traffic.
  • During snow plowing operations, when you leave the MGIO site or when you are heading to the site and pass through the gate at the end of the paved road, you are required to make contact with MGIO personnel via radio and inform them that you are traveling on the unpaved road. If you should come upon a snow plow, STOP. Give the snow plow plenty of room (>100 feet) until you have made POSITIVE contact with the plow driver. The driver will wave you through when the plow has been stopped and safely secured.
  • If road conditions are bad, park and go have breakfast, until the weather improves and roads are cleared. When snow plows are active travel in groups of 2‐3 cars.
  • Anyone driving recklessly or endangering other employees will be reported to site supervisors for corrective action.

How to install tire chains

  1. It is best to install chains before you get into the snow. Drive slow on blacktop with chains to avoid tire damage.
  2. Shut off the vehicle and set the emergency brake. Use ice scraper to knock snow off of wheel cap.
  3. Lay the chains flat on the ground or tarp so each side is straight with smooth side up. Make sure there aren’t any twists or kinks in the links as this will shorten the chain. Latch side to outside of tire. Hook on inside of tire.
  4. Pick up on outside edge and drape the chains over the tire.
  5. Keep the latch to outside of tire and hook to be installed on inside of tire. Double check to make sure the smooth side is down on the tire.
  6. Back up 18‐24 inches to bring both sides of chain around tire so that it can be latched securely.
    Reset emergency brake.
  7. Tighten and secure chains on tire.
  8. After initial installation move vehicle forward or backward at least 15 feet and re-tighten chains.
  9. Then secure and tighten extra links or chains with the bungee cords.

Mountain driving requires a high level of concentration, respect for the terrain, and respect for your co‐workers.