Despite the old adage for single women in Alaska that "the odds are good, but the goods are odd," Alaska is actually full of studs. Unfortunately, they can only be found only on Michelins, Goodyears, and Nokians. For those of us above 60 degrees latitude, today, September 15th, is the first day we can change over our summer tires to studded winter tires, thus heralding the start of winter in Alaska!
OK, so what on earth are studded tires? They are winter tires with approximately 60 to 120 metal studs or pins firmly entrenched into the outer rubber. When rubber meets the road, these metal studs push into the road, holding it in a tenacious momentary grip. Their tenacity tears up roads; they are noisy as stud and asphalt meet; they reduce a car's gas mileage by at least a a few miles per gallon; and Alaskans love them.
Have you ever driven in really icy conditions, perhaps skidding across the road a bit, sliding into guardrails, or finding yourself face-to-face with oncoming traffic? Now imagine driving like that 120 days a year. If you live and drive in a northern, snowy clime with five-month-long winters in a perpetual state of snowing, sleeting, melting, and refreezing, studded tires offer a feeling of safety and normalcy. They allow you to live six miles up into the mountains or forty miles away from work. They allow you to drive the 358 miles from Anchorage to Fairbanks in near-blizzard conditions.
As any true Alaskan, I love my studded tires. I love hearing their metallic and rocky crunch as I tool down an ice-free highway. I love feeling their gummy stickiness as the studs burrow into the asphalt and are then set free. I love how macho and manly they make me feel, no matter how small or fru-fru my car may be. Ahhhh, the joy of studded tires...
Like any invention of great importance, studded tires are also controversial. Even though a whopping 42 states allow either seasonal or unrestricted use of studded tires, most are veering away from encouraging their use. Snowy and icy Illinois forbids their use. In 2007, Costco stopped selling them in all states except Alaska. The problem is that studded tires chew up roads until they are left permanently rutted with two parallel grooves that scream, "INSERT TIRES HERE!"
According to a 2004 research report commissioned by the Alaska State Legislature and completed by researchers at the University of Alaska Anchorage, approximately 40-60% of Anchorage drivers use studded tires in the winter. The report also cited studies in Finland and Japan that found banning studded tires is actually more costly than the road repair associated with them because of the increased costs of accidents and road sanding. In the end, the report recommends restricted seasonal use of studded tires and investigation into alternative wear-resistant asphalt mixtures.
In Alaska, at least, studded tires are here to stay.