Over Thanksgiving Kelly, her mom Judy and I took a scenic ride through the Colorado backcountry. We were looking for something off the beaten track that we had never seen before and would worth checking out, even if we didnt get much of a chance to get out of the car. I had heard that there was backcountry skiing in the vicinity of the East Portal and Rollins Pass. A dirt road leads all the way to the tunnel terminus, and then a 4×4 road leads up toward the pass. Skiing and hiking opportunities abound from both the portal and along the road up the pass. November was almost entirely without snow, although a few moderate storms rolled through certain areas. We weren’t really sure how far up the pass we’d get so we planned to just play it by ear, picnic wherever the road ended and then head back after a quick reconnoiter.
It turns out that there was way more snow than we expected – deep ruts were forming up in the wake of all the big jeeps that had been coming and going. My 5 season old studded Nokian Hakkapeliitta 7 SUV tires and my otherwise unmodified vehicle did so well that I was compelled to write a favorable review.
First things first – everyone makes a big stink about how quickly winter tires wear. I’m on season 5! Granted I have never used this car as a commuter, but this has still exceeded my expectations. Take a look at the stock photos and then the recent photos of the tires for comparison.
Okay, let’s analyze. Clearly there is wear. But from the stock photo you can see 4 distinct wear bars on the shoulder. My photos provide a shot from each of the front and rear tires. They are rotated properly each year, so they are pretty close to one another, though can tell that one pair has worn a bit more. They must have ended up in front for an odd season. In any case, on both front and rear tires you can still make out the 3rd wear bar. On one, it’s pretty close to gone, on the other it’s actually still prominent. So they seem to be less than 50% worn. However wear is not he same as lifespan. Once the 2nd wear bar starts to fade, it’ll be time to think about upgrading. If that coincides with new summer tires, I’d feel fine riding these around in lieu of a summer tire since they still have substantial tread.
Now onto my observations of their performance. As you might expect, it’s possible to slip. That said, I’ve never lost total control with these things. I often find that they will slip briefly before ‘hooking up’ again. It is not uncommon for me to use cruise control with 2WD (rear wheels) on the highway when the road is snow covered. In truly bad conditions (white out, deep snow steep winding roads), 4WD, low gear and a steady hand lend excellent confidence. Last year the state of New Hampshire literally closed the highways due to a blizzard. We didn’t quite get the news in time to change our plans. No sweat…
Since getting these tires I’ve rescued 3 other vehicles from various snow related mishaps. Two of them were substantially larger than my Xterra: an F250 and a Land Rover. The tires get much of the credit – these things can grip!
In the spirit of disclosure I have gotten myself stuck twice. On one occasion it had snowed about 4 feet. I parked on the side of the road and was subsequently plowed in. Other vehicles were parked so closely that I wasn’t comfortable just flooring it. We ended up digging out.
The second occasion, again involved parking roadside in the north country. I thought I was pulling over into some soft snow. The shoulder turned out to be more of a ditch. It took several burly men and 4WD to push it out. If you chock these episodes up to user error, the tires still shine.
Now for some tire eye candy!
Update: Change of plans! The following footage is just from Loveland Pass on a storm day. turns out scrubbing through hours of footage from car rides is slow going! This is still a good sampling of typical driving conditions, but the Rollins pass stuff (more exciting) will have to wait until later. Also, I think I might want to put a bit of effort into that one – might actually turn out to be fun! Stay tuned; I’ll post back here and probably create an independent post as well.
But here’s a quick preview of the Rollins Pass action:
Update Two: I finally created a full blown edit from Rollins Pass. Check it out!