It's not easy to get stuck in the snow in a jacked-up Land Rover riding 38-inch tires. You have to try pretty hard. But Jon Baldur is determined.
After crossing a few rivers he finally got to a steep incline at the base of Eyjafjallajokull glacier, east of Reykjavik. Stepping out of the vehicle, my boots immediately crunch through a hard layer of ice and sink down into a foot and a half of soft snow.
Baldur has perhaps bitten off more than his Super Defender could chew. As an Icelandic off-road driving expert and tour company operator, he knows a lot about being stuck in snow.
Today's lesson is supposed to be a master class in how to get unstuck. But the situation looks hopeless. Nevertheless, Baldur gets to work.
If you were stuck, say parallel parked with unruly mounds of wet snow all around, the shovel is the tool you'd use. Clear a path big enough for the driven wheels to pick up some momentum, and you'll drive free.
But a shovel's not going to work here. We're surrounded by deep snow.
"The most important thing to do is to not spin the wheels," Baldur says.
This is where most people go wrong. They spin the wheels – either because they don't know they're doing it or they think they can get out – and they just sink deeper into trouble.
It's important to listen. Open the window to hear what the wheels are doing. Baldur actually sticks his head right out the window to look at the front tires. It takes a sensitive right foot to successfully get unstuck.
Next, use momentum. The idea is to rock the vehicle back and forth in whatever rut you're stuck in: drive forward, roll back, repeat. Time the throttle so you're pressing it just as the vehicle starts to swing forward, so each time you build momentum.
But we're stuck too deep for that so Baldur goes straight to Step 3.
"Deflate maybe half of the pressure, even on a standard tire, until it starts to look a bit flat," Baldur says. This gives the tire a bigger contact patch, and therefore more traction. Like a snowshoe, having more surface area on the snow helps the tires to "float" rather than sink in. Tires deflated, you can try Step 2 again.
Remember: It's not safe to drive on under-inflated tires, so as soon as you free your car, pump the tires back up. Get a good compressor and keep it in the trunk.
Baldur climbs back up into the cabin, sticks his head out the window, and starts rocking the car back and forth: no wheel spin, no drama, no rush. He's delicate on the throttle, the engine barely revving at all. Finally, the truck breaks through the ice and snow blocking the wheels, and continues to trudge up the steep incline. No sweat.
If it works in Iceland, it can work in Canada, too. Good luck out there.
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