8 Tips for Driving I-70 in the Winter

If you’re heading to a Colorado ski resort via I-70 this winter, the road conditions can put a serious damper on your ski plans.  

Between the winter weather, mountain roads, occasionally heavy traffic and frequent road closures, you’ve got to plan ahead. Here are our tips for tackling it safely.

1. Follow Traction Laws

The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) has very specific laws for driving I-70 during winter. To start, there’s the Traction Law), which states that “motorists must have either snow tires, tires with the mud/snow (M+S) designation, or a four-wheel/all-wheel drive vehicle.”

Not sure if your ride qualifies? Look for the M+S or M&S on the sides of your tires. They won’t guarantee that you won’t get stuck, but they’re required by law.

2. Know the Passenger Vehicle Chain Law

In particularly rough winter conditions, CDOT has taken it one step further with the Passenger Vehicle Chain Law.

This law requires that all passenger vehicles driving on I-70 “have chains or an alternative traction device (like AutoSock),” but only when winter conditions are particularly severe. Anticipating a difficult drive? You can prepare by purchasing tire chains or an AutoSock. Otherwise, you risk racking up a noncompliance fee of anywhere from $130 to $650. Check with CDOT before your trip to properly prepare for road conditions.

3. Be prepared for emergencies

This might be common sense, but you’ll want to stock your car with the basics: a shovel, jumper cables, a jack, and a spare tire, to start. And in case you end up temporarily stranded, it’s a good idea to bring bottled water, non-perishable snacks (think granola and protein bars) and extra blankets. For a full list, check out this vehicle emergency supply kit checklist from the Red Cross.

4. Check I-70 road conditions

Before you leave, you can visit the CDOT Road Conditions site for a live feed of your route and up-to-date information on delays along I-70. If you’re taking the interstate further west, the Oregon Department of Transportation offers a similar service in TripCheck.

Once you’re en route, you can even use the CDOT mobile app to check for updates along the way.

5. Take an appropriate vehicle

All-wheel drive and four-wheel drive vehicles will handle best on I-70’s mountain roads in the winter. If you’re renting a car, you’ll ideally be looking for a truck or SUV with four-wheel drive and all-season tires.

6. Weigh down your car

Packing your luggage and supplies at the back end of your car will help weigh down your back tires and prevent skidding. Not packing much luggage? Consider throwing sandbags in the trunk of your car (or bed of your truck) to prevent accidents.

7. Keep a full (or nearly full) tank

Again, keeping plenty of gas in the tank is sort of common sense. But if you’re driving on I-70 in the winter—and especially through Colorado and the Rocky Mountains—the benefits of keeping the tank full are two-fold.

To start, that full tank will help weigh down your car and give you more control on icy roads. Plus, in the event that you find yourself stuck, you’ll have plenty of fuel to keep yourself warm while you wait for help.

8. Drive conservatively

Finally, you’ll want to amplify those standard driving best practices: leave extra stopping room, avoid using your brakes on icy roads, take uphill and downhill passages slowly, and give yourself plenty of time to make your trip. If you have a long route, consider finding hotels along the way to break it up with convenient stops.

Another tip: the Eisenhower Tunnel is the highest point along I-70, with the westbound lanes following steep descents at the end of the tunnel. Even 4WD vehicles are prone to skid off the road on these downgrades, so take extra precautions around this area to drive slowly.

There you have it—our top eight tips for safe I-70 winter driving.  If you’ve driven I-70 through Colorado (especially in the winter) and have any other tips for ski season commuters, let us know! Otherwise, safe travels and happy skiing!


About the Writer:

Dylan York is an Ohio-based writer who splits her time between the Midwest and anywhere with good hiking and diving. She blogs about Latin America, budget travel, and overpacking at Everywhereish.com.