Saddle Sore: Time to keep your wheels on the road and head on a swivel |

Saddle Sore: Time to keep your wheels on the road and head on a swivel

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

It’s that time of year again! Sneaks up on people, mostly on those who can’t remember from year to year what it all means, and it seems to get a few without fail. In case you don’t know what I’m talking about — it’s snow and ice on the roads, and for good measure, snow and ice on windshields.

If this sounds like a primer on how to drive when the fall weather changes, it kind of is, and it applies not only to those who come here from somewhere else, which, if you can believe demographic paroxysms, that entails a good share of the Roaring Fork Valley population, but to every damned one of us.

My daughter travels Highway 82 both directions from Woody Creek a lot, taking kids hither and yon, and when I think of her and my grandchildren being out on that road, sharing it with folks unqualified for the weather and road conditions, my blood pressure goes up a bit.

This is a subject I’ve undoubtedly written about before, and I wouldn’t be doing it now, except, guess what, my daughter called the other day, wondering why people still get caught with their pants down (so to speak) when the weather changes to snow. She was on her way toward Basalt to pick up her daughter from preschool when she was abruptly stopped by a four-car wreck blocking the upvalley end of Snowmass Canyon.

That corner gets more than a few accidents every year. Afternoon drivers go into this first curve of the shady canyon too fast, thinking the wet-looking reflection on the road is snow-melt water, and too late, realize it is black ice. Oops. That race-car driver mentality lets them down at the last moment.

Some people drive like they’re on a bumper-car course with safety feature on all sides. Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way. Once it’s too late to make a meaningful correction, which happens in less than a split second, you might as well sit back and enjoy the crash. It is inevitable unless God owes you one, a highly doubtful scenario.

There was the time, on a very slick day, a car came up on me from behind, right in the neighborhood of where Guido used to feed the elk (between Phillip’s Trailer Park and Snowmass), going quite a bit faster than I was. This was in the “old” days before the four-lane expansion, on what was then generously referred to as “Killer 82,” a narrow two-lane highway that drove some people absolutely crazy.

Without so much as a blink, the upcoming car passed me like I was going backward and then instantaneously went into a fishtail, swooshing right and left, almost immediately ending up in the barrow ditch on the right. Good enough! But before long, on the last straight stretch before Basalt, here came that same car again, going about 100. I moved over to get out of his way, and no sooner did he pull back into the downvalley lane after whizzing past me, he started fishtailing again, kerplunk, right in the ditch for good.

It’s people like that who can’t really benefit from a defensive driving course, and who are generally oblivious to what we casually refer to as common sense.

Before the advent of magnesium chloride (a hygroscopic deliquescent), that gunk the highway department sprays on the asphalt to melt the snow, and which doesn’t work below a certain temperature, we used to be forced to deal with snow and ice on a more regular basis. It made better winter drivers out of us. Well, maybe. Refer back to “Killer 82.”

One particularly memorable day, not unlike some we still get even with mag chloride, I was headed upvalley just past the Snowmass Conoco when traffic slowed to a standstill.

Figuring I would just take my lumps for being in the traffic at that early morning hour, and knowing that a wreck up ahead was likely the cause, I settled in with the morning KDNK talk show on the radio.

Up ahead, a familiar face was approaching my position, going very slowly with a group of other cars. It was Gale “Spider” Spence, one of my heroes from back when and a good friend, quickly giving me the “180 sign,” meaning turn around and go back or you’ll be stuck here all day. You don’t question people like that.

Being a retired EMT emergency responder, I can tell you I’ve seen two broken neck fatalities sustained from being crashed into by an out of control car on an icy Highway 82. Wear your seatbelt and pay attention.

The moral of the story after all of that is, apparently, some things never change. Get used to it, I reckon, and hope like hell you remain an observer rather than a participant in the carnage.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at