Every year, we are amazed by the magic and wonderment of the first snowfall.

"Great Zeus! Some sort of cold white feathers are falling from what appears to be giant marshmallows stuck to the earth's blue ceiling!"

And every year we forget how to drive on snow.

"Why, I am stomping my foot on the 'go forth' pedal, yet my circular carriage feet are spinning fruitlessly! Also, I am unable to see due to the pile of cold white feathers covering my carriage front glass. What witchcraft is this?"

I grew up in Michigan, where I spent hours doing doughnuts in an Olds Delta 88 in snow-covered parking lots or — I hope my kids don't read this — on the ice of Lake Huron.

So, yeah, I know how to drive in the snow.

Here, then, are some winter driving tips: Accelerate and decelerate slowly. Double the normal following distance. Oh, and make sure you have the tools necessary to free your vehicle should you become stuck.

Once, for whatever reason, I had driven my dad's new, 1988 Buick Regal into the winter woods with my then-high school girlfriend.

We got stuck. Four high school kids appeared out of nowhere and agreed to help push us out if I would let them go "bumper skiing." "Bumper skiing," for those of you who have not done dangerous things in northern states, consists of holding on to a bumper and sliding on your feet as you're towed down an icy road.

After they pushed us to the road, the kids held on to the back bumper, and I towed them up and down that country road before, as I watched in the rearview mirror, all four fell off at the same time.

Weird, I thought. What a weird coincidence.

I honked a "thank you honk" — that's two quick beeps, done twice — and drove off.

I dropped my girlfriend off and pulled into my house. The back bumper, I noticed, had been ripped off my dad's new Buick. My dad, I knew, would realize his car had a bumper when I left with it.

That night, I snuck out and found that bumper and spent the next few hours reattaching it. The bumper fell off a few days later, and my father railed about the quality of plastic bumpers. He may or may not have written a letter to General Motors.

There's a good chance, when he reads this, I may get grounded.

Other driving tips? Keep a survival kit in your vehicle. Avoid stopping while going up hills. Oh, and make sure your brakes are in perfect working order.

Last winter, my subpar vehicle maintenance intersected with winter weather conditions on the first icy day of the year. I was heading north on 63, toward Menard's. It was late, with almost no one on the roads. I was, in hindsight, possibly driving too fast for road conditions.

I was nearing the stoplight on Broadway just past the 52 overpass. The light was red. When I hit my brakes, the pedal went all the way to the floor.

The car began emitting a loud metal-on-metal whining sound, which, when my mechanic would diagnose it later, apparently was coming from my mouth area.

I immediately — expert driver alert — downshifted the automatic transmission from 'D' to '3'.

One other car was waiting at the stoplight in the left lane. I was in the right.

The 1997 Pontiac Sunfire features a hand emergency brake set between the front seats. When I pulled the brake handle up slightly, one rear wheel locked up, whipping the front of the car wildly to the left.

The metal-on-metal whining sound was getting louder, as well as higher in pitch.

I released the handle and frantically steered into the skid to straighten out. I pulled the handle again. The car pulled wildly left. I released the brake and frantically steered into the skid.


Finally, I slid to a stop, right where you're supposed to stop for stoplights!

Except I was facing sideways, my headlights pointed directly at the driver in the left lane. He glanced over and nodded.

And I like to think that nod was his way of saying "What you just did there, vehicle-wise, was as skillful a display as I have ever witnessed. I'd like to commend you, sir, for your deft maneuvering in such conditions. Also, I could hear your screaming from inside my vehicle."

Steve Lange is the editor of Rochester Magazine. His column appears every Tuesday.

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