Canadians know how to get a grip on winter

24 Jan 2020 12:02 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

After enjoying the snowiest, coldest 10 days of the winter, Minnesotans once again proved we know how to handle weather. We can mock those less-hardy citizens in other parts of the country where a few inches of snow or temperatures below freezing mean catastrophe.

But our friends to the north have an even better grip on winter.

Between Christmas and New Year’s, our family enjoyed a weekend vacation in Winnipeg. We’ve visited Winnipeg before, as well as Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal. But all those trips were in summer.

For those who haven’t visited, Winnipeg is a six-hour drive along interstates with little traffic. We planned to sample a number of unique restaurants and visit the Canadian Museum for Human Rights that opened in 2014. We couldn’t land reasonably priced tickets for a Jets game, but we did watch the Manitoba Moose (a team started 25 years ago as the Minnesota Moose) who play in the American Hockey League. For those on a budget, three U.S. quarters get you a $1 of Canadian cash.

We arrived in Winnipeg late on Friday afternoon and soon we noticed two curious scenes.

First, we noted that a majority of vehicles lacked hubcaps. My oldest daughter speculated that perhaps Winnipeg suffers from a high incidence of hubcap thefts.

And we remarked, the cars were dirty. Unlike Minnesota vehicles, crusted with dried road salt, dirt coated our Canadian neighbors’ cars.

The answers to these puzzles were not larceny or lust for mud, but Canadians adapting to winter driving.

Canada is one of the coldest places in the world – only Russia, Greenland and Antarctica are colder. So, coping with winter is serious business.

First the hubcaps. When the temperature drops, Canadians bolt on their winter tires and don’t bother snapping on hubcaps.

While Quebec is the only province where it’s mandatory for every vehicle to have winter tires, Manitoba and other Canadian provinces recommend installing four winter tires when the mercury drops below 45 degrees F.

Winter tires have replaced what used to be called snow tires. The difference is in the tread pattern. Snow tires had deeper grooves for gripping the snow, but the rubber got hard when it was cold and didn’t work so well on ice. Today’s winter tires have a tread designed to grip both snow and ice by remaining supple in the cold.

Since 2008, it’s been a law throughout the province of Quebec for all motorists to have four winter tires installed on their vehicle from Dec. 15 to March 15. These tires must be marked with the peakedmountain-with-a-snowflake symbol, which guarantees the tires have been certified to meet snow traction performance requirements. Getting caught without winter tires risks a fine of $200 to $300.

Now about those brown cars. Canadians go easy on the salt. They are not only concerned about the environmental damage of salt, there’s a matter of chemistry.

Salt is only effective to around zero and after that the only other tool to help keep cars on the road is sand. Sand is the main treatment for city streets and less-traveled roads.

Instead of salt, Winnipeg is testing spraying beet juice on slippery city streets this winter.

The benefit from using beet-based melting products is that it reduces the chloride loading on streets and the environment. City officials say beet juice works to about minus 22 degrees F. Winnipeg only uses salt on main roads, with brine and sand used on other streets. Two small problems with beet juice…a foul order and staining.

The state of Minnesota and many cities use a commercial product to enhance brine applications … but no beet juice.

While your friends vacation in Arizona or Florida this winter, consider heading north and test your winter coping skills with the pros.

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