Truckers from southern climes who suddenly find themselves and their tires battling Colorado’s high-altitude winter weather along Interstate 70 really just need to remember one rule of survival: Pack extra socks.
The Colorado Department of Transportation last month approved use of a new high-tech textile fabric sock that wraps around the drive tires of semi-trucks and automobiles and is believed to provide better traction, including quicker starting and stopping, than conventional steel tire chains.
“This new sock technology is supposed to be cheaper and easier for truckers to use in lieu of chains, and they think that will help make a difference,” said state House Rep. Christine Scanlan, whose district includes two of the most heavily trafficked ski resort counties, Eagle and Summit, along the I-70 corridor.
Jackknifed semi-trucks, often driven by truckers from the southeastern or southwestern United States who are caught off-guard by snow squalls atop Vail Pass and the Eisenhower Tunnel virtually any month of the year, are often blamed for massive traffic snarls during peak ski-season weekends that can turn the 100-mile drive between Denver and Vail into a five-hour nightmare.
“You see them up at the top of [the] pass disoriented from the altitude,” former Vail councilman Greg Moffet said, alluding to the 10,600-foot Vail Pass. “They’re not from around here; they don’t know what’s going on.”
Greg Fulton of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association, a trucking lobby, said his organization does everything it can to educate out-of-state truckers about Colorado’s potentially extreme driving conditions, through DVDs and CDs and other information it sends to truckers around the nation. But part of the problem is the lack of safe places to chain up and the time it takes to put on steel chains.
Fulton said more and better places to chain up and down were added last winter along the I-70 corridor and even more spaces will be added this summer. But he agreed that one of the biggest breakthroughs next ski season may be the new AutoSock from Norway, which his group has thoroughly tested and wholeheartedly endorses. CDOT also tested the sock and gave its OK May 14.
The AutoSock uses “high-friction properties according to new theories on the effect of electrostatic charging and pressures on friction,” according to the company’s Web site .
The AutoSock goes on much faster than steel chains, which can take up to 40 minutes to put on if the trucker is inexperienced, and is much easier on the roads, according to Fulton. He added that the AutoSock also doesn’t come off as easily as steel chains on dry roads,which pose a hazard for other drivers.
“I’m all for any device that will safely get these vehicles up the pass, keep them from getting stuck and have them travel in a safe manner,” said Colorado State Patrol Sgt. Shawn Olmstead, who’s patrolled Vail Pass the past five winters. “Chains are tearing the roads up and a lot of passenger vehicles suffer damage primarily to tires and wheels from running those things over.
“And I about rolled my SUV the other day driving down the road and hitting a pothole, and a lot of those are caused by the chains. Any new device that’s effective, I’m all for it.”