Up here, climate conditions can – and frequently do – shift dramatically. Drivers in the NWT have to keep a close eye on weather conditions, be prepared for unexpected challenges, and remember that they live in a stunning but unforgiving part of the world. Follow the advice below, and you’ll be ready for any winter challenges.

Getting Ready

  • Get your vehicle winter-ready with a maintenance check-up.
  • Before winter begins, switch to snow tires, which provide better traction and handling through snow, slush and on ice. Remember to check tire air pressure frequently, as it decreases in colder weather.
  • Check road conditions and weather forecasts before you depart
  • Be prepared for severe weather conditions.
  • Tell someone your travel plans – when you’re leaving, what route you’ll be taking and when you plan on arriving – before you leave.
  • Keep your gas tank sufficiently full – at least a half of a tank at all times is recommended.
  • Make sure you have sufficient windshield washer fluid in the reservoir and that it is rated in the -40°C temperature range. Keep an extra jug in the vehicle.
  • Keep an emergency kit in your vehicle at all times. It should include warm clothing and blankets, a flashlight, candles, matches, first aid kit, pocket knife, canned nuts or energy bars and brightly coloured cloth, as well as a small shovel, sand and a tow strap.

Staying Safe

  • See and be seen in low light conditions, and when blowing snow and white-outs impair your visibility.
  • Keep your windows clear.
  • Leave plenty of space between you and the vehicle ahead – at least four seconds in poor conditions.
  • Look far ahead as you drive, so you can recognize hazards and have plenty of time to respond.
  • Adjust your driving and speed to the road and weather conditions. Keep your speed steady.
  • Bridges and overpasses freeze first, so slow down, and avoid sudden changes in speed or direction when approaching them.
  • Watch out for black ice (areas of the road that appear black and shiny)
  • Share the road cautiously with large trucks and buses, which can blow snow onto your windshield.
  • To make Antilock Brakes work correctly, apply constant, firm pressure to the pedal. During an emergency stop, push the brake pedal all the way to the floor, if necessary, even in wet or icy conditions.
  • Adjust your driving to the road and weather conditions. Slow down and avoid sudden turns of the steering wheel, and sudden braking and accelerating which could cause a skid. In a skid, decelerate by taking your foot off the brake, step on the clutch or shift to neutral, then look where you want your vehicle to go and steer in that direction.

If you're stuck or stranded

  • Don’t panic. Stay with your vehicle for safety and warmth. Wait for help to arrive.
  • Be careful if you have to get out of your vehicle when on the shoulder of a busy road. If possible, use the door away from traffic.
  • Draw attention to your vehicle. Use emergency flashers, flares or a Call Police sign. Run your motor sparingly. For fresh air, slightly open a window away from the wind. You may have to exit your vehicle occasionally to make sure the exhaust pipe is clear of drifting snow before running the engine.
  • If you attempt to free your vehicle from the snow, be careful. Dress warmly, shovel slowly and do not overexert yourself. Body heat is retained when clothing is kept dry. Wet clothing due to the weather or perspiration can lead to a dangerous loss of body heat.
  • In blizzard conditions, especially overnight, make sure one person stays awake, because help could take some time to arrive. Maintain circulation by moving your feet, hands, and arms.

Myth: I don’t need survival gear.

Northern winter roads, especially secondary ones, can put you and your passengers in real danger if your vehicle breaks down, you have an accident, get stuck in a snowbank or slides off the road. Always be prepared for an emergency in winter:

  • Install good winter tires.
  • Don’t let your fuel level drop below half a tank.
  • Make sure that every passenger in the vehicle has warm winter clothes available.
  • Prepare a “Winter Travel Kit” with candles, matches, sleeping bags (or blankets), first aid kit, pocket knife, canned nuts, energy snack bars and a brightly coloured cloth to use as a flag.
  • Put a small shovel, a bag of sand and a tow strap in your trunk.
  • Tell someone your travel plans.

Winter Tire Safety

Winter tires can mean the difference between keeping control of your vehicle and skidding all over the road. Transport Canada recommends that all vehicles driven in winter conditions be equipped with four winter tires marked with the Snowflake symbol.

What are Winter Tires?

Snowflake-marked winter tires meet specific snow-traction performance requirements, and have been designed specifically for use in severe snow conditions. Manufactured from a softer mix of rubber than summer or all-season tires, winter tires also feature treads that improve road handling in rain, snow and slush.

Are All-Season Tires a Suitable Replacement?

No. All-season tires don’t have the same gripping characteristics as winter tires, and will not be as effective in helping you control your vehicle safely in icy, slippery conditions. In colder temperatures, the rubber compound of an all-season tire hardens considerably, providing less grip than a winter tire. Wide high-performance tires, except those with the snowflake symbol, are also not suitable for use on snow covered roads. And avoid retread tires altogether – the thread can become separated from the belt.

Here are some other points to consider when choosing your winter tires:

  • Don't mix tires with different tread patterns, internal construction and size. This will degrade your vehicle's stability. In particular, avoid mixing cross-ply and radial tires.
  • Don't use worn tires, particularly on snow-covered roads.
  • Ensure your tires are properly inflated. Remember that tire pressure decreases as temperatures drop. Check your tire pressure at least once a month, after your car has been sitting overnight.
  • When choosing your tires, go to Transport Canada's Tire Recommendations page to learn more about how to make the best choice.