I Drove A Base-Model VW Golf Over the Rockies in a Snow Storm and Saw the Donner Party
Two days before Christmas, my wife and I found ourselves stranded in the Denver airport after missing a connection to southwest Utah. The choice in front of us was simple: wait two days for the next flight, or drive two days to get to the destination.
The latter sounded much more fun.
We modified our car rental reservation and promptly found ourselves in a base model VW Golf with all-season tires. The goal was to make it from Denver to Monticello, Utah that evening. However, an hour west of Denver, things got rough.
An adulthood of driving in northeastern snow prepared me well, but the drive promptly took a toll on us. A 6-hour drive quickly turned, to 7, 8, 10, 12.
I realized pretty fast that Colorado snow drivers are far more capable than many in the northeast think they are. As cars confidently passed me, I grew to have a lot of respect for the folks in the mountains.
The visibility got worse, the traffic slower, and the roads more percarious as we crept further up the mountains, away from the population, and into the upward-bound switchbacks. Vail pass was closed and we were redirected far north through Winter Park and beyond, eventually to the mostly unpaved CO Rt. 1 also called the Through Road. It took roughly 7 hours to travel along our 140 mile detour with near zero visibility with cross winds completely obscuring the road and whatever was beyond the shoulder (if there was anything).
However, the car, again equipped with budget all-season tires, proved remarkably capable. Constant motion and delicate inputs got us through most of the way, however the cowl and defroster on the car was an incredible disappointment.
Similar to our MK6 GTI back home, the wipers regularly pack the snow down, freezing over themselves and eventually dragging debris across the windshield. We became pros at clearing the wipers while driving (we avoided stopping for fear losing the lights from the traffic and, eventually, the road).
Just south of Rt. 1 we reconnected with i70 east of Eagle where the road completely cleared. At that point it became clear that we weren't going to make it to Monticello that evening, but a quick stop in Grand Junction and an early start the next day rewarded us with some pretty remarkable roads for the remainder of the trip.
We made the right decision leaving the airport, but it would have been nice to have some snow tires.
Written By: Alex Frank
Alex and his team are responsible for all consumer facing activities at FCP Euro including Service, Catalog, Marketing, Content, Branding, and Motorsport. An avid photographer, rock climber, skateboarder, and traveler he's inspired by things bigger than he is.