Slipping, sliding and having virtually no traction when driving in snowy weather can be no fun, especially for those living in areas where freezing temperatures occur during the later part of the year. As ambient temperatures fluctuate, snow tends to melt and re-freeze, often creating an icy layer on the pavement. For this reason, switching your vehicle's summer or all-season tires to winter tires might be a good idea. This may seem like a tedious and costly task, but consider that summer and all-season tread compounds become harder as the temperatures drop, making driving in snowy and icy conditions even more daunting than it already is. Since winter tires have different tread patterns that aide with snow, ice and wet-road traction, and are also resistant to hydroplaning, it's best to play it safe and switch to tires meant for inclement weather.
Recently, we had the opportunity to play in the snow with a few vehicles outfitted with proper winter tires when Continental invited us out to Austria to test their current line, as well as the ContiWinterContact TS830 P model that is due to come out later this year. They set up a test area, just outside the city of Salzburg, that was broken up into four different stations -- each of which demonstrated some of the beneficial characteristics of their different winter tires.
The first station was an ice-covered autocross course featuring Volkswagen Golf TDI's fitted with the current ContiWinterContact TS830 tires and Audi A6 TDI's with the upcoming, performance-oriented TS830 P tires -- giving us the chance to test the tires' superior grip capabilities on the slippery track. Although the Audi's all-wheel drivetrain may have had something to do with it, we did notice that the TS830 P's performed marginally better than the TS830's. At the second station we drove cars equipped with CrossContactViking tires, including an Audi Q5, an A6 Avant and a Porsche Cayenne. The highlight of this station was driving through a short route with a steep uphill grade -- even when accelerating from a dead stop on the hill, the tires immediately gained traction, with no sign of tire slippage.
At the third station, we caravanned up a snowy hillside in Mercedes-Benz GLK's to get more experience with the CrossContactViking's off-road capability. It wasn't as exciting as the other stations, but it was nerve-racking to try to remain focused on the road as we drove along a steep cliff. Aside from that, the cars ascended and descended with ease and felt almost as if we were driving on dry pavement.
The fourth station showcased the braking capabilities of three different types of tires including the Winter Max Snow, designed for driving on snowy roads; the Winter Max Ice, for icy roads; and the Viking Contact 5, for driving on snow and ice. Driving Mercedes-Benz C220's, each equipped with a datalogging device, we were able to obtain notable braking distance figures on the given snow surface and see first-hand how each tire type performed. The results were skewed, since there were different drivers for each run, but we were still able to confirm with numerical results that the Max Snow tires made the car stop better than the Max Ice tires, with the Contact 5 results falling in between the two.
By the end of the day, the compilation of winter driving scenarios made the once-challenging task of driving on snow-laden roads somewhat fun and relatively easy. They may often be called "snow tires", but keep in mind that winter tires are meant to be used for the whole season, which could include driving on more than just snow. Our taste of the Continental winter tire lineup showed that spending the extra money to change to winter tires is a worthwhile task, and possibly life-saving.