Another point, I was looking back over some older forum topics and I was reading ones about horror trips in the snow. I've been to Snowshoe only once in January and it was dumping. Any other time I've gone its been clear. If conditions are really bad (think snow and lots of it) are chains a necessity or really just an after thought. With 16 people many of which have never been to the 'Shoe I want to make sure they get there and back safely. Any suggestions?
I've driven quite a bit in WV during mild snow storms and lake effect snow, and only needed to use chains once and that was on the driveway leading up to my condo at Timberline. The state does an excellent job of clearing snow, and Snowshoe does an even better job.
If we really get socked, and I dream of that moment every day of the year, then all bets are off. You can buy chains cheaply at Track Auto. I keep a set in the trunk along with a first aid kit, a tow rope, and a collapsible Ortovox avalanche shovel (great for digging a car out of snow). I'm probably over-prepared but I tend to drive from DC to WV drive very late at night when the weather can get unpredictable, especially climbing Allegheny Mountain and crossing the northern part of Dolly Sods on 93.
Speaking of driving in snow, my worst memory was as a kid heading to Waterville Valley in New Hampshire. We got caught in a typical New England icy mix and it was unbelievable. There were so many cars that ran off the road that I stopped counting. Fortunately for us, my father had the foresight to put studded snow tires on the car. I don't even think you can buy studded tires anymore...
I haven't bought chains from them yet, but probably will in the near future.
It's important to make sure you get the right type of chains for your car and tires, and pre-fit them. I have a 4wd Nissan Pathfinder, and *usually* for 4wd vehicles you want to have chains on each tire, but I noted in my Pathfinder's user manual an explicit warning only to put chains on the back tires. Each car is different, and it's critical to look at your user manual.
Chains are not a perfect solution -- it's never a good idea to go out in a winter storm unless you have to -- but they do provide extra traction. Four wheel drive, big SUV tires, and anti-lock brakes are of little help on slippery or snowpacked roads. Use caution when putting on chains, though -- other drivers in a snowstorm might not see you by the side of the road, and people have had their car slide into them while putting on chains.
Some of the roads to Snowshoe are windy and steep, and in a heavy snowstorm, even the most aggressive snowplowers won't be able to keep up with the storm -- those roads could be downright treacherous at times. Skiers like us tend to have the opposite reaction of most people when it snows: we feel a desire to travel to the slopes rather than bunker down at home. Having snow chains in your trunk and an understanding of how and when to use them are a great idea.
(After re-reading my message, it sounds somewhat ominous. That wasn't my intention. It's useful to think about these things in advance -- as you are -- to make sure you're prepared for worst-case scenarios.)
John: I think you're right that studded snow tires are no longer available -- they do too much damage to roads and have been outlawed in most, if not all, states. (Well, maybe not Florida!) It looks like the best combination these days is snow tires and snow chains.
You can still get studded tires out west in Washington/Oregon/California.