Friday, December 21, 2012

Winter Road Trip Tips

Christmas is just around the corner, and it seems that people everywhere are gearing up for their holiday travels. It is predicted that this could be the busiest Christmas travel season in six years. According to the Daily Advocate, nearly 93.3 million Americans are expected to do some sort of traveling over the next few days. 90% of this group will be traveling by automobile. Tire Business reports that the average journey is estimated around 840 miles roundtrip. Those are some impressive statistics.

With that many people on the road, it is more important than ever to plan ahead and travel safely. So while you are spending your nights wrapping presents, finishing last minute shopping, baking, and packing, there are a few other things to consider. Here are 14 winter road trip tips to help you have a safe and happy holiday:

1. Before you hit the road, ensure that your vehicle is properly maintained. Check your oil and have it changed if needed. Test your lights and windshield wipers too.

2. Map your route in advance. If you have a longer journey, it is best to know your course before you leave. Also, be sure to have some sort of GPS or map along, just in case you get a little lost or find yourself on a detour. Most cell phones have very convenient GPS apps, such as VZ Navigator or Google Maps.

3. Keep anything of value in your trunk or in a covered storage area. You do not want to worry about anything getting stolen during one of your pit stops.

4. Be sure to have your cell phone and charger with you at all times, in case of an emergency.

5. Pack an emergency kit. You never know when you will encounter bad weather or car troubles. A very basic emergency kit should consist of a blanket, flashlight, batteries, first aid kit, water, food, jumper cables, ice scraper, and maybe a small shovel too. 

6. Brush up on your winter driving skills. If you are not used to driving in winter conditions and find yourself traveling in them, it can make for a very long trip.

7. Know your winter weather terminology. Listening to the weather does not help if you do not understand the terms. Here are a few important ones for traveling in the winter as defined by the National WeatherService:

 Winter Weather Advisories: Issued for accumulations of snow, freezing rain, freezing drizzle, and sleet which will cause significant inconveniences and, if caution is not exercised, could lead to life-threatening situations.

Winter Storm Watch: Alerts the public to the possibility of a blizzard, heavy snow, heavy freezing rain, or heavy sleet. Winter Storm Watches are usually issued 12 to 48 hours before the beginning of a Winter Storm.

Winter Storm Warning: Issued when hazardous winter weather in the form of heavy snow, heavy freezing rain, or heavy sleet is imminent or occurring. Winter Storm Warnings are usually issued 12 to 24 hours before the event is expected to begin.

Blizzard Warning: Issued for sustained or gusty winds of 35 mph or more, and falling or blowing snow creating visibilities at or below 1/4 mile; these conditions should persist for at least three hours. 

8. Avoid speeding. Winter road conditions and holiday traffic can make speeding a real hazard. When you find yourself pushing the speed limit, remember that all the time you save by speeding is lost when you get pulled over. Set your cruise, relax, and enjoy the drive.

9. Inform someone else of your timetable and travel route. This is especially important if you are traveling alone.

10. Make a music playlist before you leave. Family road trips can be fun, or they can be a real headache. Avoid the classic argument over music by making a playlist for everyone in the family before you go. Let each member of the family pick some of their favorite songs.

11. Travel at night, if possible. If weather conditions are clear, you might be happier traveling at night when there is less traffic. Also, if you have young children, they are likely to sleep on the way, making your trip a little less chaotic.

12. Pack your own food. Stopping for food can be expensive, time consuming, and unhealthy. By bringing your own food, you can eliminate extra stops, save money, and allow yourself some healthy options.

13. Pack travel bags for everyone. Anyone traveling with kids knows the importance of keeping them busy in the car. For young ones, pack bags with books, crayons, coloring books, movies, and their favorite toys. For teens, pack their ipods, video games, and tablets. When everyone is happily occupied,  you will be glad you took the time to pack their bags.

14. Cell phones make travel a whole lot easier than it used to be. There are some great apps to help you along the way. As previously mentioned, VZ Navigator and Google Maps are excellent navigational tools. GasBuddy allows you to view gas prices all around you so you can find the best deal. AroundMe can help you locate banks/atms, bars, coffee shops, gas stations, hospitals, hotels, restaurants, and entertainment. TripAdvisor can also help you locate hotels, restaurants, and things to do. Check your store or marketplace app on your phone for other great travel applications.

Now that you are prepared for your road trip, finish your baking, gift wrapping, shopping, and packing, and hit the road!

Have a safe and happy holiday!

- Cortney Slaight of Visit Spearfish, Inc.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Winter Adventures in Spearfish

Whether you love it or hate it, I think it is finally safe to say that winter has arrived in Spearfish. After just a couple hints of snow, winter made its grand entrance last weekend. Unfortunately,  it decided to show up just an hour before the Spearfish Holidazzle Parade, causing a little bit of chaos. For anyone who has not heard, the parade had to be canceled for this year due to the weather. Though it is a disappointment, most of us are happy to finally see some snow.

I am quickly learning that winter in Spearfish does not mean quite the same thing as it does in other places. Locals are excited to hit the ski slopes and snowmobile trails. Those in the tourism industry are gearing up to welcome visitors who venture to the hills for the winter sports. Typically I would associate winter with anywhere from four to six months of snow, freezing temperatures, questionable driving conditions, and plenty of good reasons to stay inside. That, however, is not the case in Spearfish. While the Black Hills tend to keep a fair snow cover throughout the winter, allowing for winter sports, the snow in Spearfish tends to come and go. Just a few days ago, most yards were covered in a sheet of white, but thanks to temperatures in the forties this past week, a good share of the snow has already melted.

While I am thrilled to hear that I will not spend my entire winter fighting with my ice scraper and shovel, I am also pretty excited to hear that there are so many winter sports at my fingertips. The Spearfish area offers a variety of winter activities including: snowmobiling, snowboarding, skiing, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and ice climbing.

Some of the nation's best snowmobiling is located in the Black Hills National Forest, near Spearfish. The 350 mile Black Hills trail system ranked in the top ten among all snowmobile areas and was recognized for outstanding support in the areas of grooming, signage, maps, and services. In addition, the 1.2 million acre Black Hills National Forest offers unlimited off-trail riding. Near Spearfish, Savoy hosts a popular snowmobile trailhead, accessing the Black Hills trail system. Trails opened December 15th, and pathways are groomed every night during the winter. Snowmobile servicing, rentals, and guides are available, and there are plenty of pit stops, gas, warming shelters, trailheads, and parking along the way. If you bring your own snowmobiles, be sure they are properly licensed either permanently or with a five-day temporary pass.

The Black Hills also offer some of the best skiing east of the Rockies. Terry Peak and Ski Mystic at Deer Mountain are both located just half an hour from Spearfish. Terry Peak is the highest lift area east of the Rocky Mountains. Terry Peak boasts a top elevation of 7,052 feet, over thirty trails, an average annual snowfall of over 150 inches, four chairlifts, and a freestyle terrain park. Ski Mystic features a summit of 6,850 feet, over forty trails, a zero gravity tube park, and a triple chairlift. Both resorts offer rentals and ski instruction.

Cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and ice climbing are also popular winter activities. Big Hill and Eagle Cliff ski trails, located west of Spearfish Canyon, are popular among cross country skiers. These scenic trails are a great way to spend a winter day. Ski rentals are available. Snowshoers can enjoy exploring sections of Centennial and Mickelson Trails near Spearfish, or break new paths in the Black Hills National Forests. Snowshoe rentals are also available at numerous locations. Ice climbing is a growing sport in the Black Hills. There are many climbs with easy access and no avalanche danger.  Spearfish Canyon offers a number of great ice climbing opportunities, including: Bridal Veil Falls, Eleventh Hour Gulch, and Community Cave. Crow Peak, just west of Spearfish, is another great climb, depending on conditions.

With mild conditions in town, and great sporting opportunities just minutes away, it is easy to see why Spearfish is the perfect winter getaway. Whether you are looking to hit the snowmobile trails, ski slopes, or try your hand at something new, Spearfish is ready for your next big adventure.

- Cortney Slaight of Visit Spearfish, Inc.