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Which Highway in a Snowstorm??

Toronto, Canada
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Which Highway in a Snowstorm??

I've rented a Subaru Outback AWD for our trip to Heavenly March 9-14, coming from Sacramento Airport.

I'm certainly no stranger to driving in horrible snow and icy conditions, that's four months of the year around here, but not often in the mountains. If there is a snow advisory in effect when we arrive, would it be better to go in through Truckee and then south, or is the route worse around the lake?? If we take 50, is there any chance of getting turned back at some point, or do they close the road to all but locals before you get to the mountainous area?

I just can't tell how difficult the drive would be in a storm, and am concerned that if we stay in Sacramento overnight, will it still be bad the next day?? I don't want to miss a night (or two) in Tahoe if we can avoid it. Are the highways sanded, or just plowed? If our flight is on time, we'll be starting out from Sacramento by about 2 pm, planning to arrive before dark.

In case of snow, we'll have to make the decision on what to do at the airport. Is the Caltrans internet site (I'll have a laptop) updated frequently, or is there a number to call? Any advice is appreciated.

South Carolina
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1. Re: Which Highway in a Snowstorm??

I-80 to Truckee from Sacramento is a better road than US 50 and more likely to be open because it is 4 lanes all the way. US 50 has about 30 miles of two lane up above Placerville.

BUT: The drive around the lake is a killer! Ca hwy 89, don't you dare drive it in heavy snow!!

I would rather chance US 50 all the way into SLT. You have an exellent chance of not having snow controls. I have yet to need a 4wd, and have never put on chains in all the years we have been to Lake Tahoe. Lucky? Yes!

There is a telephone number for road conditions. I do not know what it is, but you can get it from a web site. If you have difficulty getting the number, I will be glad to drill into it for you.

Road conditions are also broadcast on AM radio. The frequency is posted on road side signs.

US 50 is well prepared for snow removal. They have both plows and sand trucks ready at a moment's notice. California Highway Department wants the roads open even more than you do!

You will be starting out with a full tank of gasoline. Your bigger concern is the heavy commuter traffic out of Sacramento, but sunset will find you in South Lake Tahoe!

Toronto, Canada
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2. Re: Which Highway in a Snowstorm??

Thanks so much for your response, stateref, that was my main concern, as to whether the roads are aggressively maintained or just shut down til after the storm. With what this trip is costing from out east, and the cost of the hotels in Tahoe, we really can't afford to be sitting waiting for the snow to stop.

I feel better now! Thanks again.

Redlands, California
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3. Re: Which Highway in a Snowstorm??

I agree that 50 is the best option. You can call Caltrans at 1-800-427-7623. That will give you up to date road conditions, closures and chain control information.

One thing you may want to keep in mind is that traffic on Friday afternoon can be awful. You may luck out and be an hour ahead of the hordes coming up from the San Francisco area, but I wouldn't count on it.

The weather is unpredictable. If the roads are bad, conditions may or may not be better in the morning. I make the drive from Truckee to Sacramento about once a week. I check the weather reports carefully and call Caltrans before I drive up the mountain. Sometimes, I just stay in Sacramento to avoid the traffic.

We are getting a lot of fresh snow. Enjoy your trip!

northern california
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4. Re: Which Highway in a Snowstorm??

I'd take Hwy 50, storm or no storm. 80 is heavily traveled by semi tractor trailer trucks and can be really scary during a storm.

Traffic on both roads is bad on Friday afternoons, get going as soon as possible.

There are warning signs early on about "carry chains" or "road closed ahead". When the roads are closed the roads are closed to all. So far, it hasn't been that kind of winter but who knows what March will hold.

Redlands, California
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5. Re: Which Highway in a Snowstorm??

There are a lot of trucks on 80, no arguement there. Yes, they are scary. It's not uncommon to see chain control for cars and trucks "being held". You can get that info from Caltrans. I rarely take 50, so I have no idea how many trucks you will encounter if you take that route.

New York City, New...
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6. Re: Which Highway in a Snowstorm??

The Caltrans Highway Information number is 1-800-GAS-ROAD. If there is a storm, it will be slow going no matter what the traffic is like. If chains are required, you need 4WD with snow tires, 4WD alone is not good enough. There are 3 levels of chain control,

1. chains or snow tires

2. chains or 4WD with snow tires

3. chains on all vehicles

They will usually close the highways entirely before going to level 3.

I think you will probably get snow tires if you rent a 4WD, but you might want to make sure.

northern california
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7. Re: Which Highway in a Snowstorm??

One winter while I still lived on South Shore we had a level 3 - chains on all vehicles even in town - There was no reason to even go outside!

Hwy 50 doesn't get near the truck traffic. It's only trucks that need to service the area, not everybody hauling cross country on I80.

Toronto, Canada
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8. Re: Which Highway in a Snowstorm??

Highway 80 sounds like our Highway 400 up here, which runs north from Toronto to ski country and gets all of the lake effect snowsqualls. Our 400 is also bumper to bumper every weekend while people are either going skiing or to cottage country and has all the major truck traffic. I've done more white-knuckle drives on that road than I care to count. I guess I should feel prepared for anything.

Thanks so much for all of the info and the phone number. I'll hope that if it storms enough to close the roads that there'll be room at the inn somewhere in Sacramento.

Redlands, California
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9. Re: Which Highway in a Snowstorm??

Don't worry, Torontogal, Sacramento has lots of hotels. You could even stay at the Hyatt where our governor lives! It's snowing really hard this morning and for some odd reason, 80 is open.

New York City, New...
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10. Re: Which Highway in a Snowstorm??

http://www.dot.ca.gov/cgi-bin/roads.cgi

as of 11:30 AM Sun Feb 25 2007 says eastbound traffic is being held 3 miles east of Pollock Pines due to avalanche control

And a lot more, but I can't paste it here cause it's in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. Oh well. Visit the site during the day and type in 80 and/or 50 for the highways and see what sort of things go on when it's storming.