The Death Pass – an excellence place for an Aussie to learn about snow driving

My job is conveniently located (despite quite a long drive) just off the autobahn out of Graz, which means I have an easy run every day with no traffic problems. The only problem is that it also requires me to drive over ‘The Pack’ which I have affectionately renamed: the Death Pass.

It's not surprising it's always snowing on the pack
It’s not surprising it’s always snowing on the pack

It is one of the higher parts of the Austrian autobahn, climbing up over a mountain range and being notorious for heavy snow and ice. With my minimal snow driving experience, the thought of driving the Death Pass in winter scared the crap out of me. I was sure I was going to be stranded overnight in my car as thick snow slowly built up around my car turning it into an icy death den… ok so I was being a little bit melodramatic.

So now that winter is finally over, here are my more realistic reflections on the Death Pass.

It wasn’t as bad as I thought

See... sometimes it's sunny up here, foggy below
See… sometimes it’s sunny up here, foggy below

We enjoyed quite a mild winter here, which meant only a few days where it snowed heavily on my drive to work. The first time I was lucky enough to have a co-pilot with me (carpooling buddy) who kept me at ease on that very tense drive. And after the first few times, it became common-place. Oh, it’s snowing on the Pack again, what a surprise!

I didn’t need my survival pack

Survival pack for overnight in car
My survival pack included a handy onsie, 2 snickers bars, water, extra gloves, sock and beanie and a bucket to pee in

In no way was I ever in any danger of being stranded on the autobahn overnight. Generally, as I’ve discovered, this only happens when there’s a bad accident, and very infrequently. Because that section of autobahn is so notorious for snowfall, they’re always salting it and clearing it diligently at the first sign of snowfall. At worse there might only be a single lane open… but that is enough.

It has its own ecosystem

Living in a valley manes that often we're under that fog!
Living in a valley manes that often we’re under that fog!

I pretty much drive through three different ecosystems on my way to work. My valley is usually covered in dense fog and freezing cold. Once I get out of that ecosystem and start to drive up and over the Pack, it can, surprisingly, get warmer. It can also get cooler, much cooler, and even when it’s not snowing elsewhere, it’s often snowing on the Pack. The third ecosystem is coming down the other side into Graz, when generally the weather and temperature will change again, usually the opposite from what it had been just minutes earlier.

Be careful on the bridges

Signs like these (along with a designated speed limit) are common on bridges on the autobahn
Signs like these (along with a designated speed limit) are common on bridges on the autobahn

One thing I didn’t know before driving this winter, is that bridges are notorious for being icier than the rest of the road… something to do with the fact that there’s nothing underneath them. So if it was a particularly icy morning, I would always take extra care on the bridges.

The fog was worse than the snow

What? Where did my visibility go?
What? Where did my visibility go?

In November/December, it was common for fog to completely envelop me in any one, or all three of the ecosystems. Driving in fog when you can’t see 10m in front of you is frightening! And it happened pretty much every other day for weeks at a time. My 45 minute drive would turn into over an hour of cautious, slow, steering-wheel gripping, heart-pumping action.

Watch out for flying ice sheets

And even when you think that winter is over… be prepared for flying ice sheets. Water freezes on top of trucks and as they drive the following day and everything starts to thaw… it’s not uncommon for ice sheets or chunks to fly off, smashing onto the road behind them. My tip, stay well behind trucks wherever possible, and if you see something fly off, try to stay out of the way, having your car hit with a chuck on frozen ice never ends well.

2 thoughts on “The Death Pass – an excellence place for an Aussie to learn about snow driving

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