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Old 08.01.2012, 17:22
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Driving over the Alps into Italy

Hi!

I've got a question about travelling from Switzerland to Torino. We're going to travel to Torino from Martigny, Valais just for 1 night on 10th February. There's 4 of us, so we're planning to drive, as I assume it will be much cheaper than the train (correct me if I'm wrong). Google suggests we take the Grand-Saint-Bernard Tunnel. I've got two questions:
  1. Lately, road signs have been indicating that the Grand-Saint-Bernard Tunnel is either closed, or wet (snowflake symbol). What do you think the chances are that it will be open and safe to drive on 10th February?
  2. Is there a safer (even if longer) route to take from Martigny, Valais to Torino? If the tunnel's closed, what would you suggest? What if it's open but has a "snowflake" warning?

We do have winter tyres, and I'm definitely planning to get snow chains, but I've barely ever driven on snow/ice before. It's not really an issue you often have to deal with in Australia :P I'm happy to drive slowly and carefully, but I do not want to be sliding all over the road...

I'd appreciate any advice you could give!

Thanks,
Roy
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Old 08.01.2012, 17:42
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Re: Driving over the Alps into Italy

Drive over the Simplon, or load your car at Brig and take the train to Domodossola.

Tom
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Old 08.01.2012, 17:46
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Re: Driving over the Alps into Italy

Hi Roy,

I took the same road on Xmas morning 2 weeks ago. The closed sign for the tunnel it's for heavy vehicles, not cars. At least in my case when I was traveling through VS the signs were showing that the tunnel was closed and than the picture of a truck followed, so it was open for cars (light motor vehicles).

The tunnel costs 45 (or 50) CHF both ways, or around 25-30 if you do it one way, can't remember exactly how much I payed.

But, to reach the tunnel you will need to drive around an hour uphill in the mountains. When I was driving it was snowing and there was snow on the road and also ice. Temperature on this track to the tunnel was -8C.

If you have winter tires and FWD, you'll be OK. As you've never driven on snow and ice before, the rules are

-never press the brake suddenly nor to keep it pressed for longer periods, be very light on both the gas and the brake

-no sudden movements when turning, never press the gas pedal when turning

-don't go more than 30-40 km/h

-if you start to slide, let go of the pedals, no braking, no gas, leave the wheel unless you are on a collision track or going the left lane, in that case just break the slide with turning opposite of the slide

-if you get stuck, try with turning the wheel and going forwards and backwards

Follow this and you'll be fine. There were few cars (I think RWD) that were stopped on the road and needed chains. I experienced only one short slide on ice with M+S ALL SEASON tires and 4WD (well, all wheel drive, 4x4 on demand) but it was very short and going opposite of the slide fixed it immediately. But my tires are not the best for that kind of conditions.

Here's a photo of the track before the tunnel:



The road was full of ice and as I didn't have ideal tires I was going 30-40 km/h. Most cars (even FWD) were over passing me at 50-60 but probably had good winter tires.

The great thing is when you pass the tunnel in around an hour you will see this from your car:

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Old 08.01.2012, 19:52
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Re: Driving over the Alps into Italy

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...If you have winter tires and FWD, you'll be OK. As you've never driven on snow and ice before, the rules are

-never press the brake suddenly nor to keep it pressed for longer periods, be very light on both the gas and the brake

-no sudden movements when turning, never press the gas pedal when turning

-don't go more than 30-40 km/h

-if you start to slide, let go of the pedals, no braking, no gas, leave the wheel unless you are on a collision track or going the left lane, in that case just break the slide with turning opposite of the slide

-if you get stuck, try with turning the wheel and going forwards and backwards

Follow this and you'll be fine. There were few cars (I think RWD) that were stopped on the road and needed chains. I experienced only one short slide on ice with M+S ALL SEASON tires and 4WD (well, all wheel drive, 4x4 on demand) but it was very short and going opposite of the slide fixed it immediately. But my tires are not the best for that kind of conditions.
...
Thanks, V, great information!! We have winter tyres and a front wheel drive Fiat Panda (not the 4WD version). We will try to buy some chains before we go, just in case. Could you recommend when we should put chains on and/or take them off? The only thing I know is that you should take the chains off if you're driving at higher speeds...right?
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Old 08.01.2012, 21:08
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Re: Driving over the Alps into Italy

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Thanks, V, great information!! We have winter tyres and a front wheel drive Fiat Panda (not the 4WD version). We will try to buy some chains before we go, just in case. Could you recommend when we should put chains on and/or take them off? The only thing I know is that you should take the chains off if you're driving at higher speeds...right?
I've never driven with chains nor there was an occasion to put while climbing or descending a mountain.

I've heard that in Switzerland if conditions require chains there is a police check on the road to enforce it. If you don't have chains you can not proceed further.

I wouldn't rely too much on chains. If you get stuck and can't go, give it a go with chains. Normally you should be just fine with FWD. Remember you can't drive more than 30 km/h (perhaps 40?) with the chains.

I'd suggest you start easy in the beginning and let everybody go in front of you or over pass you. Most of the cars I believe are locals so they drive the road every day. Anticipate your moves and try not to stop. If you stop, you might have trouble starting again, although in a FWD you should be fine. If you see a car in front of the road blocked, try to overpass it slowly without stopping. As you are getting closer and closer to the tunnel you will have a lot of small tunnels and galleries where the road is dry. You should be careful there, don't speed but continue to drive the same way.

And as for your question regarding cost car vs train...I think even if you compare single engine airplane vs train you'd still find train more expensive to travel in 4
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Old 08.01.2012, 21:22
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Re: Driving over the Alps into Italy

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I've heard that in Switzerland if conditions require chains there is a police check on the road to enforce it. If you don't have chains you can not proceed further.
I've been stopped and told to put the chains on by the police.
I've only had to use them a handful of times and I frequently drive to ski resorts at the weekends.
I have had to put them on when I got stuck in a Coop car park though

Putting them on is a dirty, horrible job. Take something you can put on the road like an old towel to kneel on, and a pair of marigolds as well.

And despite the inconvenience, put them on once at home so you know what you are doing if it comes to the crunch.
The ones I have need/can be, tightening/ed after a few hundred meters.

As V says, put them on when you start wheel spinning, and take them off before you enter the big tunnel.
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Old 10.01.2012, 12:02
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Re: Driving over the Alps into Italy

My husband and I did the pass last Thursday night at 12 am while it was snowing driving a small front wheel drive vehicle. It was snowing hard and there was no need for chains at all. The snow ploughs pass regularly in inclement weather--we saw two as we did the pass. Should be fine in February. The pass can look kind of scary in those conditions but it's a good road with a lot of guard rails. If any of this freaks you out, do as Tom suggests and take the Simplon pass, putting the car on the train. Of course, that dumps you out in Lombardia instead of Val d'Aosta.

By the way, the Swiss police assumes that you are smuggling drugs if you return to Switzerland after 9pm. We got our car searched and everything.
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Old 10.01.2012, 12:14
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Re: Driving over the Alps into Italy

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If any of this freaks you out, do as Tom suggests and take the Simplon pass, putting the car on the train. Of course, that dumps you out in Lombardia instead of Val d'Aosta.
Piemonte, actually.

The Verbano is the divider between Piemonte and Lombardia.

Tom
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Old 10.01.2012, 12:15
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Re: Driving over the Alps into Italy

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My husband and I did the pass last Thursday night at 12 am while it was snowing driving a small front wheel drive vehicle. It was snowing hard and there was no need for chains at all. The snow ploughs pass regularly in inclement weather--we saw two as we did the pass. Should be fine in February. The pass can look kind of scary in those conditions but it's a good road with a lot of guard rails.
Well I'm hoping I won't be needing the guard rails!! By "pass" do you actually mean the tunnel (1918 m), or the pass itself (2469 m)?

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If any of this freaks you out, do as Tom suggests and take the Simplon pass, putting the car on the train. Of course, that dumps you out in Lombardia instead of Val d'Aosta.
Unfortunately that would increase the travel time from 2.5 hrs to 4 hrs...... What do you think about instead taking the Tunnel du Mont Blanc? That would only add 25 mins to the trip, and the max elevation would be reduced from 1918 m down to to 1381 m. Looks like return toll is EUR 50.

Thoughts?
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Old 10.01.2012, 12:25
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Re: Driving over the Alps into Italy

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Well I'm hoping I won't be needing the guard rails!! By "pass" do you actually mean the tunnel (1918 m), or the pass itself (2469 m)?



Unfortunately that would increase the travel time from 2.5 hrs to 4 hrs...... What do you think about instead taking the Tunnel du Mont Blanc? That would only add 25 mins to the trip, and the max elevation would be reduced from 1918 m down to to 1381 m. Looks like return toll is EUR 50.

Thoughts?
I go through the Mont Blanc tunnel from time to time. As traffic flow is restricted there can be a wait to go through at peak times. The wait is stated and 90 minutes is not unusual peak season.
If you return that way & drive over to Martigny the customs there is either closed or the biggest pain in the arse ever. If they are there they will usually do a passport check in their office or sometimes a really serious search of the car.
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Old 11.01.2012, 23:25
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Re: Driving over the Alps into Italy

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Well I'm hoping I won't be needing the guard rails!! By "pass" do you actually mean the tunnel (1918 m), or the pass itself (2469 m)?

Unfortunately that would increase the travel time from 2.5 hrs to 4 hrs...... What do you think about instead taking the Tunnel du Mont Blanc? That would only add 25 mins to the trip, and the max elevation would be reduced from 1918 m down to to 1381 m. Looks like return toll is EUR 50.

Thoughts?
Yes, the tunnel is what I mean. The actual pass closes every year on October 15th. We take the fo-real pass during the summer 'cause it's pretty and FREE! You won't need the guard rails--I just meant that their presence is reassuring and means that the worst that can happen is that you get stuck in the snow, no big deal (I'm from the subtropical land of Georgia, USA, so I think like you about these things).

The train (Simplon way) does take you farther out of your way. Personally, I've never experienced a wait going through the Mont Blanc tunnel, so go figure. But perhaps we travel at non-peak times? It's spendy though.
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Old 13.01.2012, 18:24
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Re: Driving over the Alps into Italy

Not much to add with regards to current conditions for the tunnel, but I use the tunnel once every 3 months or so.

My advice relates to the locals and their use of the road around the tunnel. Do not be put off by their driving. As V stated, they drive the road daily and may put preasure on you to speed up (I found this mostly on the Italian side). Just ignore the preasure and drive at a pace comfortable for you.

Also take note of the speed limits on the Italian side.

Good luck, you'll be fine if you follow most of the advice on here

BuggedSee
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Old 13.01.2012, 18:34
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Re: Driving over the Alps into Italy

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Unfortunately that would increase the travel time from 2.5 hrs to 4 hrs...... What do you think about instead taking the Tunnel du Mont Blanc? That would only add 25 mins to the trip, and the max elevation would be reduced from 1918 m down to to 1381 m. Looks like return toll is EUR 50.

Thoughts?
You will have to go over the Col de Forclas which is just over 1500m, the road often closes after a heavy snow fall due to avalanche risk.
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