Norway’s extreme weather makes for bad driving conditions in the winter, especially up in the mountains. You will have to cross a mountain pass like Hardangervidda if you are traveling between the west and east of Norway, and these passes are often incredibly challenging to pass during the peak of winter.
If you’re passing over Hardangervidda during a winter storm, you might see that the road has what is called kolonnekjøring (which can be translated to column driving or convoy driving). This is a type of crossing that you might have to experience if you are driving a rental car between Bergen and Oslo during the winter, so let’s take a closer look at what column driving in Norway is like, and what to do.
Column driving is when a snow plow vehicle drives in front of a long line of regular cars during winter storms in the mountain passes. Drive with an even speed while following the car in front of you, and make sure not to loose it out of your sight. You are not allowed to drive without following the convoy if there’s a sign with “kolonnekjøring“.
The column driving will only happen if there’s bad weather conditions. You will typically find this in cases where there’s a small storm that provides a steady supply of snow on the road. Without a snow plow vehicle in front you would simply get snowed in very fast.
If the storm keeps getting worse, the entire mountain pass might even close down! There’s a few times when Hardangervidda has been shut down for multiple days, and you have to be prepared to either wait a long time, or take a very long detour to get between the east and the west of Norway.
How to behave if there’s column driving on your mountain pass
Driving with column driving in Norway is not as difficult as you might imagine. You will get to an area where a physical barrier is set up and signs telling you that there’s column driving ahead (see the top photo to see what it’s like).
At this point you need to wait, often with a lot of other cars, for up to several hours while the snow plow vehicle arrives. You can call Statens Vegvesen on the phone number 175 to inquire about the next column drive time. The wait can often be a few hours, but it will depend on how many cars are passing and how many snow plows are available.
When the snow plow is ready, just follow the convoy of cars over the mountain pass. It will usually drive at a pretty slow pace, but it’s important to not get too far behind the car ahead if you while at the same time staying at a safe distance.
This is often easier said than done since the sight tend to be next to none during column driving (there’s a snow storm after all). You are required to use the warning lights / hazard lights to give your car the maximum amount of lights for other drivers to see. If you have it, turn on the fog lights as well.
The last car will also be a car from Statens Vegvesen that makes sure that no cars are left behind from the convoy. If any car has issues or stops, the entire convoy will stop while they attempt to get the car working again, since it’s considered extremely dangerous to be left along on the mountain pass with a broken car during a storm.
If your car stops working, never walk away from your car! This could be extremely dangerous in these conditions, both because of the weather which makes it very difficult to get back to your car, and because of cars coming up from behind with virtually no change to stop.
You might be denied entry to the convoy
The lead driver had the option to deny any vehicle to join the column drive if it is deemed unfit for the conditions (such as cars without winter tires). The drive across the mountain pass during a winter storm is actually a bit dangerous, so it’s important to drive a car that can handle it.
The same reason can be applied to the people in the car. If you’re lacking warm clothes or proper equipment, you might be denied. You might have to survive for a few hours with your engine turned off in certain cases where the convoy gets stuck, so it’s important to be able to keep warm.
There will also be some cars that might not be able to join the column drive due to a limit on the number of cars. Each crossing can only bring a certain number of cars due to safety concerns, so you might have to wait a while for the next snow plow to arrive.
While this is super annoying for the cars that have to wait several more hours for a new crossing, it’s to everyone’s benefit. Mountain crossings during winter storms are dangerous, and should not be taken lightly. The maximum amount of cars are actually based on the number of people the rescue crew can safely rescue in case of an emergency.
How to prepare for mountain pass crossing in the winter
You never know when the weather changes from good to bad, and a winter storm can appear in a matter of hours. This means that it’s always important to be prepared for bad driving conditions and even getting stuck in column driving whenever you plan on passing a mountain pass in Norway.
Some things you will want to be sure of is to:
- Have enough fuel for the entire crossing, as well as some extra for heat if you need to wait a while for a snow plow. I always fill up the tank before going over a mountain pass, with no exceptions!
- Bring some spare blankets and extra clothing.
- Bring winter shoes that can handle snow.
- Bring utensils to remove ice from the car (ice scraper), as well as a snow shovel. Have these right next to you for easy access.
- Make sure that the different car lights are in order.
- Bring extra food and something to drink. You won’t be able to buy any food while waiting for the snow plow to arrive. Warm drinks like coffee or cacao is very nice if you’re cold from waiting around.
- Prepare for driving at alternative routes. Spending a few extra hours on a detour can actually often save you time in cases where there’s a convoy drive over the mountain pass.
The short summary is to prepare for the worst, and rather bring too much clothing, food and water than too little. You never know when a winter storm brews, so don’t cross a mountain pass without proper clothing and some extra food.