EDITORIAL: Tread carefully on snowy roads

The snow arrived on the weekend, and with it, a predictable blizzard of smug comments.

The snow arrived on the weekend, and with it, a predictable blizzard of smug comments about the panic that strikes residents of Canada’s Pacific coast whenever the white stuff lands.

However it is phrased, the message is the same. What’s the deal with those west coasters who get so worked up about a few little flakes?

Much of the snark, it needs to be said, is coming from people who don’t fully understand the uniquely treacherous nature of Lower Mainland snow.

It is wet, squishy stuff that is very different from the frozen, powdery precipitation that the rest of the country is crunching through or skiing down at this time of year.

Metro Vancouver snow, especially near the ocean, tends to come down moist, quickly freezing into ice.

And then, just to make it really interesting, more snow will usually land on top of the ice, a nasty combination of a slippery surface and a damp topping that packs nicely into tire treads to reduce traction.

All of this, by the way, spread over hills, some of the steep variety.

Our snow bears little resemblance to the sedate, crisp flakes found in drier, flatter climes.

On the plus side, it makes for splendid snowmen, because it packs nicely.

For the same reason, it also produces potentially injury-inducing snowballs heavy with ice. But as a driving surface? Not so much.

It is a challenge, one that local motorists don’t face all that often. Some get anxious while others, it seems, simply pretend nothing has changed. The first sort are the drivers who overcompensate by creeping along at a snail’s pace, terrified they might wipe out on the slippery streets.

Interestingly, they often seem to be at the wheel of a four-wheel-drive with snow tires.

In fairness, they may be so nervous because they’ve had an encounter with the other type of driver. Those would be the people who operate in a state of apparent denial, barreling along as though the laws of physics don’t apply to them, making sudden stops and turns as if they were maneuvering on dry pavement.

Perhaps they need to be in denial, because they often appear to be skating along on worn or inappropriate tires.

Maybe ICBC needs to consider a special “S” sticker for such motorists.

And maybe the rest of the world could do us a favor by acknowledging the unique nature of our snow and cut us a little slack.