Member Rara Avis
It was late January, 1974. I was driving a '64 Belaire, a big heavy car, on I94 from Battle Creek to Kalamazoo and, as usual, was running late. I was young and stupid and, having grown up in Michigan, had no fear at all of snow and ice. My dad had taught me to drive, after all, by taking me out on a very frozen Goguac Lake and pretty much turning me loose behind the wheel. I was cocky.
I'm sure I was doing well over a hundred miles per hour when I hit a patch of ice hidden beneath the thin glaze of still falling snow. The car went into a spin, what we called donuts back then, and I twisted the wheel to and fro in a effort to stay on the highway. I know the ride lasted only seconds, but it felt like an eternity. Thirty years ago, the sides of the highway were dotted with wooden markers, the thickness of a telephone pole, but only about three feet high, painted black and white for easy visibility at night. When the car finally left I94, it slammed sideways into a marker pole in the meridian. Like a karate chop, the Belaire hit the pole going so fast it snapped it like a number two pencil, leaving only a small indentation in the door panel. Fortunately, the pole slowed the car enough so that the five feet bank of snow behind it was a cushion rather than the brick wall it would have been at higher speeds. I walked away unscathed. Minutes later, an 18-wheeler stopped and helped pull the Chevy from it's tomb of snow. The driver said he only stopped because he felt he had to after following my trail of donuts for over two miles. The car started right back up, and I'm almost ashamed to admit that five miles later I was again pushing the speedometer into the triple-digit range.
A few years after that, I left Michigan, for California, where I spent most of the next two decades. When I finally returned to Michigan five years ago, I quickly discovered that my over-confidence had not survived the years, even though my "snow reflexes" returned almost as if I had never left. I still drive much too fast in the summer, but drive hardly at all and never very fast during the winter months. I just don't need to be anywhere badly enough to pay for the cost of what it does to my nerves. I don't know if I'm less stupid than I was in 1974, but I'm certainly less young.
Driving in bad weather isn't something someone can teach you, but can only be learned with experience. It's reflex as much as knowledge. You'll get the knack eventually, and in the meantime, your caution will serve you well. I get the impression you might even be smart enough to never let your ever-increasing experience in snow someday make you cocky.