The Grand Tetons are grand no matter when you visit, but snow transforms this beautiful destination into a winter-sports haven.
updated 12/28/2010 10:12:51 AM ET 2010-12-28T15:12:51

Winter makes for dramatic road trips. Even the familiar can seem new and surprising when the landscape is transformed, naked and swaddled in snow. Just stock up on the antifreeze and bump up the heater — a road trip in winter can be rewarding, but unpredictable conditions can sometimes sneak up on you.

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The first step for any planned winter road trip is preparation. Make sure you have the proper tires, with chains for bad road conditions. Stock the trunk with a shovel, ice scraper, blankets, extra water and some snacks. Keep the gas tank topped off. And if you do get stuck in heavy weather or on a stopped, icy road, stay in your car. It's much safer to wait out bad conditions inside or to call for help than to brave frozen roads alone. 

But don't let the challenges keep you from playing on mountains draped in powder, or from nearby winter festivals that draw hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.

In Pictures: Wild Winter Road Trips

For the biggest and most impressive of these winter celebrations, head to Quebec City, recommends Charlie Leocha, a travel expert and columnist for "Quebec City hosts an absolutely spectacular winter carnival that is not to be missed," he says.

Video: Staying safe in winter weather (on this page)

Road trips from the city north along the St. Lawrence River offer a host of other options for an extended weekend trip. "Visit Montmorency Falls, which freezes solid during the winter," says Leocha. "A little further you come to the town of Sainte-Anne, which has the most important pilgrimage cathedral in Canada. Then you get to Mont-Sainte-Anne, which is a big, unique ski area where you can ski down both sides of the mountain.

Video: Tips for driving in ice and snow (on this page)

"Some trails curve down the mountain, and there are these areas that drop where you feel like you're going to ski right into the St. Lawrence River," says Leocha.

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Eric Peterson, a Frommer's writer and guidebook author for a few mountain states, enjoys the variation in activities provided by the upscale mountain retreat of Devil's Thumb Ranch, in Tabernash, Colo. "If somebody in the group doesn't want to go skiing, they can go get a massage or take a dip in one of the year-round hot tubs," says Peterson. "It's pretty luxurious." Or for something more private, try the cabins down the road, owned and operated by the same company.

Or get up close and personal with nature on a trip that begins at Yellowstone National Park and ends in Jackson Hole, Wyo., 56 miles to the south. "Yellowstone gets 100,000 visitors in the winter, and gets 3 million in the summer," says Peterson. "You typically have to take a snow coach into Old Faithful. You get to watch it blow up by yourself sometimes.

"There's also great cross-country skiing, and great snowshoeing. And there are pretty good chances of seeing bison, wolves, elk, moose, otter," says Peterson. "It's tremendous — it's a totally different world than in the summertime there."

For a more varied landscape and itinerary, Leocha recommends starting a trip in Reno, Nev., spending some time at the shows or gambling, then driving through the desert to the California winter wonderland of Mammoth Mountain, which has one of the longest ski seasons in the country. "I like the way the landscape changes, says Leocha. "You go from the lushness of Lake Tahoe and you drop across the dry desert, and it becomes almost a lunar landscape."

We've selected here some of the best winter road trips in North America. Most are in the U.S., but a few choice options are in Canada, where they know a little something about fun in the snow. Some are destinations, where the drive can be dramatic, and part of the attraction. Others are tours that feature multiple stops along the route, all of which reward a visit.

Whichever option you choose, don't forget those tire chains.

© 2012

Video: Tips for driving in ice and snow

  1. Closed captioning of: Tips for driving in ice and snow

    >>> back now at 7: 43 with something we could all use in the aftermath of the blizzard of 2010 , a lesson on how to drive on the snow and ice left behind by the storm.

    >> reporter: this is the stuff, you got to be careful of, it could be black ice , i would could be very dangerous indeed. aaa says a few things you got to have in your car. of course you've got to have a shovel to dig yourself out, a scraper that goes without saying, a cell phone with a charger you can plug into the car. they also suggest you have a flash flight, a first aid kit in case you get stuck. the window deicer washer fluid. also the ice melt or even kitty litter , you put it under the tires for traction if you get stuck. as for tires themselves, let's go back to the basics. it's one of mother nature 's most dangerous even deadly driving combinations. each year snow and ice are the cause of a million automobile accidents . 64,000 injuries, nearly 1,400 deaths.

    >> our goal is to teach you to be alert, pro active drives.

    >> reporter: it all happens on a snow packed track.

    >> i would like to speed up at the straight aways.

    >> reporter: in the shadow of steamboat mountain.

    >> ice magnifies bad driving techniques because you have so little traction.

    >> reporter: rule number one, watch your speed.

    >> brakes, brakes, brakes.

    >> reporter: riding shotgun with me, veteran instructor assures me that even though i have grown up driving in colorado, i still have a thing or two to learn. what's the number one mistake people make when they're out driving on snow and ice?

    >> they try to brake and turn at the same time.

    >> reporter: you got to do one or the other? stopping on snow and ice is take four to ten times longer. and if your car is equipped with anti-lock brakes, the key is to provide steady pressure. the brakes will unlock on their own. a moving tire provides the necessary grip. by pumping the brakes on a car without abs, you get that grip. the experts say when you're in a slide, look in the direction you want to go rather than in the direction you're headed.

    >> look toward the solution, don't look toward the problem.

    >> reporter: finally, this is where all the skills come together, the steering the braking, the car has to come down this hill and avoid a car accident represented by these blue cones. then go another 45 feet down the hill and avoid yet another accident. the first few times, i skidded right through the cones. but with practice --

    >> brake. that's it. there you go.

    >> reporter: the third time was the charm. a better feel for snow and ice and having passed a class may be a break on my car insurance . so remember that if you have anti-lock brakes, most cars do, solid pressure. the brakes are going to pop back up, that's okay, solid pressure. anne, back to you.


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