Photos by Ryan Freitas I requested a jack. I was sure roadside assistance would laugh if I told them I needed help putting chains on my tires so I figured "fixing a flat" was close enough. I hate feeling like a total chick but there were six inches of snow on my driveway, I hadn't mounted my Blizzak snow tires yet and I needed to get Sage to school.
It wasn't supposed to snow this much in one day- the first week of November. I was excited. Not about the new snow (ok, kinda that too) but about finally getting to test my Thule K-Summit XL chains. They've been in my garage jonesing for just this occasion but I'm usually ahead of the game with the snow tires so I don't need chains.
You use snow tires or studded tires from November to April around Park City. You use chains if you live in a valley or basin like Salt Lake City or Los Angeles. Rarely do the twain meet unless you experience an in-between moment like this one. I'm spoiled by my Blizzaks. I swear by them. You can do 70 mph on snowy highways with confidence and you can get up my ridiculously steep driveway even if it's covered with snow. And now I'm spoiled by these ridiculously expensive Thule chains. I have to admit, however, that I was intimidated by its visage that was like something out of Transformers. How the hell did these things actually work? I only needed to watch the mechanic install one side to get it.
The first thing the 'rescue' mechanic said? "These are slick. I've never seen anything like them before." No more laying under your car on your back and sliming up your clothes. No more backing over the chains hoping you've lined them up correctly. No more last minute surprises where you realize you need a few extra links to make them fit. No more tinkering for so long you can't feel your fingers. No more wrapping them around your axle by accident. Simply slide the two brackets on the K-Summit over the outside of the tire, crank the center ratchet, roll forward, place the last two brackets on, crank some more and voile.
Repeat on the other tire. The chain will automatically self-adjust and tighten as you drive away. The geometric design keeps the chain from slipping off the tire while at the same time avoids touching (and scratching) your alloy wheels or ABS brakes. To remove, you loosen the ratchet, wiggle the plates and the chain practically falls off by itself. It all folds up neatly into a carry bag.
So let's talk about the price. Are you sitting down? The K-Summit runs around $600. Yes, for chains. But remember: you spend way more than that on a pair of skis you might use for 25 days. These chains should last a lifetime (they come with a five-year manufacturer's warranty) so long as you drive cars with approximately the same tire size and keep your speed under 30 mph. Plus, if you're at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon, with the sheriff moving chainless, non-4wd cars to the side of the road, you're not going to want to waste time tinkering as all those 'equipped' vehicles get to the hill before you and chew up the powder.
Like any tire chain, the K-Summit is meant only to get you from Point A to Point B on snow-covered streets. You're not going to leave them on for weeks unless you plan to drive slowly every day during the winter and never on clear freeways. In Park City that's not practical. But I sure wish I had them in high school for those weekend roadtrips to Mammoth. And I was damn glad I had them today.