Drive safely, please
Canyon driving tips from a jaded local
Editor’s note: Here are five utterly simple, straightforward, and well, mandatory driving guidelines for Gallatin Canyon commuters. Enjoy them with a couple grains of salt, and perhaps a bit of jadedness as well. But for those that find these bits of information new, please don’t feel bad, but do take these tips as a handy guide. We were all newbies to Big Sky and its cultural idiosyncrasies at one time – me included – back in 2008. Back then, I had no idea what snow tires were, and got my VW Passat stuck in downward sloping parking spots at Big Sky Resort more times than I’d like to admit. I also went hiking alone, without bear spray, on many occasions. But that is for another rant.
1. Use the turnouts.
This mostly friendly reminder is number one for a reason. The turnouts and their quarter mile warnings are updated in stark, street-sign-green, and two handy reminders, one at each end of the canyon, tell drivers that it is against Montana state law to be holding up a line of traffic longer than four cars. You want to drive slow? No problem; just help keep the rest of the traffic moving at a relatively constant pace and keep the blood pressures of all drivers at a healthy level by taking twenty seconds to pull over, let the line of cars behind you pass, and then carry on with your day at your own speed.
2. Don’t brake constantly.
The canyon has some sharp corners, that much cannot be argued. Prepare yourself for said corners by driving smoothly and going a responsible speed before having to turn, not by gunning it in the straights only to slam on the brakes a quarter mile before the next turn. Accelerating and slowing down gradually will help keep you in control. Driving slower than everyone else? Acceptable, but mind rule number one.
3. Oncoming traffic is not cause for concern.
Driving in the dark through the winding canyon can be intimidating, but normal driving rules don’t go out the window. The traffic on the other side of the line will continue to be there, day or night, so there is no need to slow down to eye-rolling speeds because there are other cars on the road.
4. Don’t stop for the sheep.
One of the easiest ways to tell locals and tourists apart is to look for the vehicles that stop in the middle of the road for the bighorn sheep. Locals know the sheep are always around, and additionally, that they are just getting their salt lick in for the day. The animals are way too relaxed to be bothered to jump in front of your car. This rule is doubly applicable when you are in a section of the road with blind corners, but does not apply if you’re able to safely pull over and get out of the roadway.
5. Remember normal winter driving etiquette.
Braking abruptly on ice? Bad idea. Tailgating so closely you can see each individual piece of dirt on the back of the car in front of you? Not cool. Think that your Subaru with summer tires is a champ in the snow just because it has all wheel drive? Think again. Reckless driving leads to wrecks and getting stuck in ridiculous places that will lead to a tow truck. Whether you are an overconfident winter driver and think you can still do 60 mph in white-out conditions, or you drive 35 mph no matter what season it is, be conscientious of those around you. Each driver’s destination is just as important as the next. Also, winter tires are a literal lifesaver – just take the plunge and get a set.