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Tips from Montreal for getting around in the snow

19.12.2019

Every winter in Paris, it’s the same story: a few snowflakes, and the ring road turns to chaos. So how do our Canadian friends manage in a climate that’s brutal for six months out of twelve? We take a look at top tips from Montrealers.

Barbara can still remember her first Canadian winter: “My colleagues took me to the store right away to buy a blanket, a bottle of water, things to eat and, most importantly, anti-freeze windshield washer fluid!Now I know to always have a bottle of it in my car in advance,because windshield wipers are useless in freezing rain.” It’s a must-have for any drivers who might find themselves stuck in their car during a storm. The French 30-year-old is getting ready for her fifth winter in Montreal. “Winter is so long here. It’s around ‑10 degrees from November to March.But temperatures can fall to -35!” Snow and freezing rain are an everyday occurrence, but they don’t stop Canadians from getting around. So what are their secrets?

Automatic heating for car engines

Having the right equipment is vital. In fact, snow tires are compulsory between December 1 and March 15. Inside every car is a brush to clear snow off the roof so as not to impede other drivers. It’s also prohibited to take “igloo cars”, or vehicles still partially covered in snow, on the road. In addition, engines are fitted with an electric device that automatically warms them up three hours before starting up in the morning. Even the fuel is treated to resist freezing conditions. “But what struck me the most was how Montrealers come together to deal with a climate that, to be honest, can be really brutal.For example, there’s a lot of carpooling to get to work or drop children off at school,” adds Barbara.

Indoor bus shelters

Cold weather tactics don’t stop at drivers. Bus shelters have walls and a roof to help users of public transportation cope with the cold. From November 15 onward every year, the Montreal mass transit network STM’s 1,800 buses, which have rear-wheel drive, are fitted with new tires. But the key to keeping the network running smoothly is removing snow. Each winter, total snowfall can reach two meters. Four hundred snowplows clear the streets and sidewalks of Montreal to keep drivers, pedestrians and cyclists safe.

Bike tires for different road conditions

Not even the snow can keep Canadians from cycling. How do they do it? By layering up their clothes to keep the cold at bay and adapt to changes in temperature. The nonprofit Vélo Québec publishes valuable tips on its website for cycling year-round. From studded tires for slippery pavement, thinner cyclocross tires for slicing through snow, or spiked mountain tires perfect for wet roads, there’s a solution for every situation. And, to enjoy long rides, there’s the fat bike, with extra-wide tires inflated at very low pressure for better grip.

An underground tunnel network for pedestrians

In Montreal, chilly pedestrians can wait out the winter underground! In fact, the city is home to the most extensive underground network in the world. Since the 1960s, RéSO’s 33 kilometers of tunnels connecting office buildings, housing, restaurants and universities have allowed people to cross Montreal on foot without putting so much as a fingernail outdoors. In the city center, 12% of stores are accessible via the system, and it’s become a part of life for residents, with more than 500,000 people using the tunnels every day. But for Barbara, the magic of Montreal in winter is in the open air: “The scenery is completely transformed. You can ice-skate on lakes and the parks turn into cross-country ski trails!For me, it was the opportunity to take up snowshoeing.” So it’s no surprise that Mount Royal, the hill towering over the city, has 22 ski slopes. It might be an annoyance sometimes, but snow can also make getting around a unique and fun experience.

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