Top tips on driving to the ski slopes this winter

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  • Erin Baker escapes to the slopes in a Seat Tarraco - here are her top tips for driving in the mountains

    Words by Erin Baker, Editorial Director at Auto-Trader

    It’s that time of year when snow lovers hit the ski slopes. But if you plan to drive to the mountains between now and Easter, what sort of car do you need, and how daunting is it driving in the snow in a foreign country? We’ve just got back from a family ski trip to Andorra in the new Seat Tarraco, a large seven-seat SUV, and it’s all much less scary than you might think…

    Choose the right car

    If you’ve got kids, a large, seven-seat SUV is the best size, regardless of how many children you have. Ski gear and long journeys require space to move about, stretch and fling the kit in without arguing about how to pack it. The Seat Tarraco was perfect: a big seven-seater with a huge boot when the third row of seats is folded flat. Big cars also don’t have to cost the earth – our Tarraco was £30,730, including plenty of tech and safety kit, which is astonishing value for such a big SUV.

    I drove my mother and two sons, aged seven and nine, on the three-hour transfer from Barcelona airport to the mountain resort of Arinsal, in Andorra. The boys sat in the back, with the seat-back trays up for their toys, playing Uno (who knew how handy a centre arm rest is in the rear for acting as a card table?), their rucksacks nestled between them, while we sat in the front with Apple CarPlay connected, flicking between Google maps and the car’s own satnav, songs belting out. There was loads of leg and head space, and it makes the journey far more relaxing when everyone can stretch out.

    Do you need a 4×4?

    Check the weather conditions, resort altitude and the country’s rules about snow chains before you travel. Some resorts ban chains because they can dig up the tarmac, and nowadays, winter tyres and four-wheel drive do as good a job. If you’re driving your car from the UK, check whether it is front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive (normally only sporty models) or four-wheel drive (4×4). Winter tyres only need to be put on the wheels which are driven by the engine, but they work really well. For example, putting winter tyres on the front wheels of a front-wheel drive car often gives you more grip than having a 4×4 without winter tyres.

    Our ski resort in Andorra was low lying, with no snow on the road, so I didn’t bother with winter tyres at all, especially because there’s a special “snow” function on the Seat Tarraco’s 4×4 system which turns the wheels more slowly in slippery conditions for maximum grip.

    driving to the slopes

    Erin and her kids smile as they unload the trunk of their Seat Tarraco

    Is it tricky driving on the right?

    The ideal solution is to fly and hire a left-hand-drive car out there, which makes driving on the right a doddle (helpful if your passenger shouts “on the right” every time you set off, to remind you). If you take your right-hand-drive car from the UK, it’s do-able, but you’ll ideally need help from your passenger for overtaking and they will have a better view than you round the cars in front.

    A large SUV, like our Tarraco, with a high ride height, helps forward visibility a lot.

    Bear in mind that after the Brexit transition period, you might need an international driving permit to drive abroad – you can get them from selected post offices and they last a year.

    What are the key car features for long journeys?

    Number one for any European driving is active cruise control. The Seat Tarraco’s is called Adaptive Cruise Control but same difference – you set your speed and also the distance you’d like to maintain from the car in front (from a given scale), and then it takes care of accelerating and braking, which spares your leg muscles in traffic jams.

    Auto Hold function is another: if you stop on a hill (plenty of those when you’re driving to a ski resort…), when you lift off the brake to press the accelerator, it holds the car still.

    We also loved the Seat’s three-zone climate control so my mother, the kids and I could have different temperatures, as well as the Tarraco’s lumbar adjustment in the front seats for aching backs, and the three USB ports to charge phones, Kindles and tablets simultaneously.

    Top tips

    The key is to be brave if you’ve never driven abroad before, and try it. It’s really not that different from the UK (remember to look the other way first at roundabouts and junctions), and if your car has a good satnav system, or Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity, you needn’t worry about getting lost. One last tip: remember to keep a debit card and some cash in the front for the motorway tolls, and head for the manual barrier or risk the wrath of hooting drivers behind you…

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