Too many brazen skiers and snowboarders venture into the canyons in cars, front-wheel drive and other vehicles that are not properly equipped with snow tires or chains. They are not only ill-prepared for driving but disregard pleas for safety and courtesy.

Sgt. Bill Bills, supervisor of canyon patrol for the Salt Lake County sheriff's office, said that he and other officers are working to reduce the problem. They solicit public cooperation.A 24-year veteran with the sheriff's office, Bills said offenders are not only motorists but owners and operators of privately owned buses and other vehicles that travel to the ski resorts without proper equipment.

"Quite often, bus operators, sometimes from out of state, don't put on chains. Sometimes they have chains, as the law requires, but they don't install them. Or the chains don't fit the buses. Sometimes they don't want to take the time to install the chains, particularly when they've got a busload of anxious skiers," Bills said.

"When the drivers get into trouble, it's usually too late," said Bills, who oversees canyon patrol on the east and west sides of the Salt Lake Valley.

The officer criticized car and tire sales personnel and car rental agencies for traffic problems tied to vehicles not properly equipped for adverse weather conditions. He says excessive highway speed is also a major problem.

"People tell us several times a day on snowy days that they have been told by car salesmen and car rental agencies that front-wheel drive cars will go anywhere an all-terrain vehicle will go. A front-wheel drive vehicle is better than one with rear-wheel drive, but it is not comparable to a four-wheel drive vehicle on snow-packed roads in the canyons," Bills said.

Tire sales personnel, he said, often claim that tires rated for mud and snow (all-season tires) will work anywhere.

"That's not true on the kinds of roads encountered in the canyons on particularly snowy days. A real good snow tire is much better than mud and snow tires. Mud and snow tires usually have a little better tread design. They're supposedly good in mud and light snow but are not necessarily good in deep snow."

Some time ago, Utah legislators deemed that mud and snow (often called all-season) tires were legal for driving in the canyons during the winter months. Such tires may be legal, but "in my opinion they cause a lot of problems and are not good enough on most snowy days in the canyons."

Bills said Utah Department of Transportation signs with flashing lights at the mouths of Big and Little Cottonwood canyons advise drivers when chains or snow tires are required. But many people ignore the warnings.

Too many skiers and other canyon travelers, he pointed out, are in too big a hurry, making it impossible to control their vehicles on curves and other hazardous places.

"They should give themselves more time, exercise more caution and watch for speed zones. The snow will not melt in the extra time that it takes for them to reach their destination," Bills said.

Responding to questions about traffic citations, the officer said they are a partial solution. But he said the sheriff's office lacks the manpower and time to follow up on every violation. Stopping motorists on steep canyon roads often creates additional traffic hazards.

On bad snowy days the ski resorts, anxious to spur business, pay off-duty deputies to monitor snow tire and chain situations.

The problem of unsafe, careless driving is illustrated in an incident that occurred recently in Little Cottonwood Canyon.

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Bills said he was traveling down the canyon in a four-wheel drive, marked sheriff's patrol truck, driving in low gear to keep from slid-ing.

"All of a sudden a guy passed me and a group of several other vehicles. The driver passed over double yellow lines on a curve. I blasted him with my siren, but he kept right on going. Around the next curve I could see that the driver had slid into a snowbank," Bills said, explaining that he didn't stop to cite the driver because that would have created an even larger traffic problem.

The same errant driver ran three other drivers off the road who were coming up the canyon. To avoid a head-on collision, the drivers had to get out of his way. The other drivers probably had to hire tow trucks to remove their vehicles from the snow, Bills said.

Bills said it's not uncommon for inconsiderate motorists to abandon a stalled vehicle in the middle of the highway to go skiing, expecting the vehicle to be there when they return.

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