Surviving the North Idaho Winter

September 23, 2022

Corey Ray & Scooter Gillis

As we see more and more newcomers migrating to the area, we all know that one of the more common questions we get is, “How bad are the winters and how do we navigate them?” We want everyone to stay safe as the temperatures drop, so we thought this would be the perfect time to give some important information on how to survive the North Idaho winters!

We are all lucky to live in such a beautiful area, but, with the beauty comes heavy snow. Arguably, one of the best parts about our winters can also be one of the most dangerous. The average snowfall in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho is around 69 inches a year, with a record-setting year of over 120 inches! Our shivery-season lasts for a little over three months and spans from the end of October into late February. Temperatures range from the negatives to about 40 degrees, yet it can drop to lower than -20 degrees, like it did one year in Coeur d’Alene!

On that note, we recommend starting with getting three things prepared: your home, your car, and your loved ones.

Prepare Your Home

Preparing your home is a very important step that should be completed before the first snow falls. Waiting too long can leave you and your family out of your house with costly repairs come springtime. Since there are so many things to do to prepare, we will split this section into two different categories; exterior and interior.


Completing the following steps now is a smart choice so that you don’t have to do these while you’re shivering! If you don’t already have these on hand, go to the store and purchase a shovel and some de-icer/sand. Make sure to store these in an easily accessible place so that you don’t have to make a long trek in the snow in the morning when you need it! If you’re living on some acreage, a snow plow, while pricey, might be the best option. If this is not possible for you, there are a plethora of local companies that can take care of this for you so that your cars don’t get stuck! As many of us locals know, shoveling your sidewalk and and driveway each time it snows can get old after a while. If you have the ability, investing in a snow-blower can make your life a lot easier.

If you wait until the snow starts falling, finding any of the items discussed above might prove to be more difficult as these things start to sell out fast, especially with the amount of people moving to this area. Another easily forgotten task is to re-pot any plants or flowers that are outside and either move them indoors, or remove the plant and store the pots in your shed/garage. You will also want to take all patio furniture, garden decor, and anything else that is on your deck or in your yard that could possibly get destroyed with the weather change. There are some exterior items that are built to withstand the snow, just remember to remove anything with delicate fabric or metal that will rust if this is the case. Your deck, swings, and anything else that is made out of wood should be sealed each year to avoid any warping or damage to the item. In order to keep your yard looking full and lush come spring time, you will want to clean up any debris from your yard, mow it one final time, and re-seed it. Drain the water from your sprinklers and hoses, then make sure to store these in a dry place. Also make sure to drain any pools you have and have proper covers to protect it from the heavy snow.

It’s a good idea to check your roof and gutters beforehand as well to ensure any necessary repairs can be made in time. Before the trees are wet and covered in snow, make sure to trim any dead branches and, if you have a fireplace, chop extra firewood and store it in a dry space for those nights when you want to be warm, cozy, and watch the snow fall.


Just as important, preparing the interior of your home can be forgotten as it’s not quite as obvious as your exterior tasks. To start off, let’s remove your A/C unit as you will not need this for the coming months. Take the screens from your windows and doors and put them in a dry area to be put back on come spring time! Since you are already in that vicinity, it’s a great time to check the seals on your windows and doors to ensure there aren’t any cracks that could lead to water leaking in. It’s always a good idea to call a professional to check your heating system now so that you aren’t in for a rude awakening once the cold temperatures hit. As you’re doing this, take the time to walk through your home and remove items that are blocking any vents and shut the vents in rooms that are unused. While you’re walking around, just take a quick second to check the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and replace the batteries in the ones that are low. Find a good, dry area in your basement or attic and start storing extra non-perishable food and lots of water in case you get snowed in. With this extra food and water, you will also want to store an emergency first-aid kit with some flashlights and candles as well since the chances are high that the power will go out. What do you want the most during the winter time? To be warm! So let’s get all of the big, cozy blankets out of storage and clean your chimney and fireplace so that you have plenty of warmth to get you through the chilly winter months.

For more preparation tips for preparing your home for winter, click here!

Prepare Your Car

Anyone that has lived here through a few of the winters will tell you that making sure your car is prepared is vital to your wellbeing. Even when we get those winters that are more minimal than usual, we still get icy roads and unprepared drivers. What is the famous line that you hear from your parents when they say be careful? “We’re not worried about your driving skills, we’re worried about everyone else on the road.” This line best explains driving in the winter season in North Idaho. When unprepared drivers hit the road once the snow falls, it’s an accident waiting to happen. To make sure you’re not one of these drivers, start by getting some studded snow tires. You can also choose to get all-season tires, which do well considering where you’re driving. If you live on a dirt road in an area that isn’t consistently plowed, all-seasons may not be enough.

If you want to play it safe, or you frequent areas that aren’t plowed on a consistent basis, studded snow tires will give you that extra peace of mind and will help you if you find yourself stuck. When you go to leave in the morning from work and you realize that your tires are spinning, having a small shovel and some sand can get you out of a real jam, especially if you’re on a time crunch. You will use the shovel to dig out your tires, then pour the sand down in front of the tire to allow it to get some traction, which will stop the spinning. I recommend keeping these items in your trunk, as the sand can also work as a heavy weight for your car. By keeping a large bag of sand in the trunk, you will assist the tires by flattening them a small amount, which will allow more friction between your car and the road (even if there’s ice on it). On the topic of what to keep in your car, you should also store an emergency kit. Inside should have basic first-aid materials, non-perishable food, extra water, pair of warm shoes and socks, some warm layers, a flashlight, and a blanket. For more ideas on what to keep in your car in the winter time, click here! While I know this may sound like overkill to some, you can never be too careful, as it’s better to have it and not need it than the other way around. I recommend having an ice scraper and an extendable brush in your passenger side to allow you to scrape your windows and side mirrors and to brush the snow off of the front, top, and rear of your car. If it snowed a lot the night before and you leave without brushing off your car, as you speed down the road, that snow will fly up on your windshield, and if anyone is behind you, on theirs as well. 

If you currently have a rear-wheel drive vehicle, you might want to consider switching to a front-wheel drive or, even better, an all-wheel drive car. This is because rear-wheel drive cars typically have substantially less weight distributed over all four wheels, so it is a lot easier to lose control of the back-end of the car. It also makes it very difficult to accelerate if you’re on an icy road. It’s always a good idea to get your vehicle inspected by a trusted mechanic to ensure your oil changes are up to date and you don’t have any problems before winter hits. Also have them check your heating and defrost systems, because you’re definitely going to need those. Lastly, always make sure you have at least a half tank of gas in your car at all times. If you make sure to always follow this rule, then you will be in a good position in case you do get stuck somewhere in the middle of a storm. 

Prepare You & Your Family

Now it’s time for the most important part, keeping you and your family safe. Experiencing a heavy winter for the first time can be scary, especially if you haven’t been in anything like it before. Time for shopping! If you’re new to the area, make sure you and your family have heavy winter coats, hats, water-proof boots with traction, gloves, and some thick pants to help keep out some of the cold. You can store away all of your summer clothing, as you won’t be needing those for a while. Start talking about getting an emergency plan in place in the scenario that you cannot leave your home, trees are blocking the roadways, the power goes out, ect. It never hurts to have a plan in these cases, as these events are always a possibility. In the winter, you will have to add time to your travels because you will have to drive substantially slower than you normally would. You will also want to put a lot more space between you and the car in front of you. This is because it may take some time for your car to come to a stop. Normally, the safe following distance is about two seconds, but in the wintertime, you will want to put about five or six seconds between you and the other car. When coming to a stop, you will not want to be bumper to bumper like you normally would. If you do this and the person behind you cannot stop and starts sliding, they will rear-end you and make you hit the car in front of you. Do your best to only stay on the major roads because these will get plowed first and the most often.

Every year we see this, people get over-confident and start driving fast while passing people on the road. It’s easy to start feeling pressured to drive faster, especially for younger drivers. If others are driving fast, don’t give in, it’s just not worth it. The most dangerous part is when these over-confident drivers hit black ice. Black ice is considerably more dangerous as it blends in with the road, so you cannot it. Once it’s present, you will want to make sure to take turns extra slow and don’t go immediately when the stop light turns green. You will notice at stop lights and four-way stop signs, that people don’t go right away when it’s their turn. This is because there are always a few drivers that either don’t stop fast enough, or are going too fast and can’t stop in time. When this happens they start to slide through the light, so waiting for a little before you go can avoid a big accident.

Lastly, practice makes perfect! You can go to a large empty parking lot of a business that’s closed and practice doing doughnuts in the snow. This can teach you how to save yourself from an accident if you start sliding out of control. A good rule to remember is to always turn into the direction you’re sliding in to make sure you don’t overcorrect yourself and end up in a worse situation. There are classes offered in Coeur d’Alene to help drivers learn how to drive in the snow. To check out these classes, click here!


North Idaho winters are truly a beautiful sight to see. As long as you are properly prepared, you will have nothing to worry about. There are plenty of things you can start to do now to prepare, so that you can go through the winter stress-free and simply enjoy it. Don’t forget to get some hot cocoa and marshmallows so you can sit by the bonfire this winter and enjoy everything that the wonderful season brings.