I once heard a track day instructor at Willow Springs declare, "Tires and braking are everything." A recent Facebook post from Road & Track reminded me of not only that instructor's point about the importance of tires but winter tires in particular. So, with the cold season in full swing last week, we headed up to Alpental in a not-so-likely chariot (at least according to most Washingtonians); the 2018 Mazda3 Grand Touring.
The adventure was purely an exercise in affirmation, a mission to prove to Washington drivers what we already knew - that in most cases, one's vehicle matters less so than which tires are fitted when driving in the snow. In the case of our Mazda3, the car was equipped with 215/45R18 Bridgestone Blizzak LM-32RZs.
As we well enough knew and expected, the Mazda3 handled brilliantly through all types of snow, slush and ice thanks to the Blizzaks. Grip was never lost for more than fractions of a second on the undulating roads of the Summit at Snoqualmie. The Mazda3 hung with every Subaru and xDrive in sight.
Our only "uh-oh" moment came when we intentionally pushed the FWD hatchback beyond what any self-preserving driver would have. Because the Blizzak/Mazda combo's performance and surefootedness in the snow had skyrocketed our confidence, our natural instinct was to see just how far this duo could go. Driving through Alpental's snow-packed streets, we came across an uphill road that virtually guaranteed a Thomas Kinkade-like setting and beautiful view at the top. With an intimidating incline ahead of us, we proceeded in 1st gear. It became increasingly apparent as we progressed up the hill that we were in 4WD territory at this point. The first chalet on the left had a Toyota 4Runner parked in the driveway - the second, a Jeep Wrangler. It was at that moment on what seemed to be a 50%+ grade that revs increased and the car slowed down. We were of course, slipping and losing momentum.
Physics had won and the snow-worthy car/tire team had been defeated. However, our u-turn back down the hill confirmed once again that AWD and 4WD are not completely necessary for a weekend on the slopes. The Mazda3 descended slowly back towards the hill's base with ease. Sure, if you're neglectful (and dumb) enough to drive a FWD hatch into deep snow up a steep grade like we did, you're likely to get stuck no matter the clawing prowess of your tires. But short of making deliberate unwise decisions about where to trek, a well-balanced FWD or RWD car fitted with superbly capable winter tires can safely get you to the most popular winter resorts in Washington.