Over the weekend it has been raining and temps have been above freezing for the first time in a while. This has resulted in the otherwise snow-covered roads in Tromsø turning into slick ice. Ever been to a skating rink? Skating rinks are not that slippery…

This morning there had been a new snowfall and our little island was once again covered in a thick white blanket. It was beautiful, of course, but for us living on top of the island that posed a little problem. The math is simple:

Steep downhill + ice = danger.
Steep downhill + ice + snow on top = danger you can’t see!

Fortunately I was aware of the potential hazard as I hopped in the car and drove off to uni this afternoon. After all, I had been slipping and sliding around while sweeping the snow off the windshield. I know these roads well, so I drove carefully but confidently. Just as I was about to turn down this really steep hill to get onto the main road, I had to stop. Half way down the hill a van had slid into the railing and was stuck sideways. The driver was frantically waving his arms at me, warning me not to attempt this hill. I didn’t want to get stuck in a pile-up, so I thought it best to find a different way down.

Fortunately I did find an alternative way down – and it wasn’t even as steep as the other one. The plough hadn’t been there but the snow was only about 6 inches deep, so this wouldn’t be a problem. At least I thought so until I started tapping the brake.

Under the snow was slick ice. The snow was filling up the treads in the tyres, turning my wheels into skis. The brakes had absolutely no effect. Even the slightest tap would lock the wheels and I’d be sliding down the hill like a hockey puck. I do have ABS (Anti-lock brakes) on the car, but that was no good here. When all four wheels lock at the same time the car will actually think it has come to a halt – and the ABS is ineffective.

So here I was, sliding faster and faster and approaching a corner. Fortunately my military driver’s training kicked in and I turned to plan B: If the brakes are no good, make sure you keep the wheels rolling at all cost. That way you will at least stay on the road. I kept alternating between braking and steering to negotiate the corners, and it worked quite well. But I kept going faster and I was getting worried about the house straight ahead of me. That’s when I saw my chance to stop. I headed straight for a pile of snow and braced myself for touchdown. The soft snow cushioned the impact and the car ground to a halt a few feet short of the house.

I got away without a scratch, but the tow trucks had a field day across Tromsø today. Coming back home, I decided to take the long way around.