Hi everyone, I'm Mike from Sydney, Australia. My wife and I are considering moving to the North West US in the future and we thought we'd go on a roadtrip in winter to make sure that we are fine with the winters. Since we live in Sydney (which has no snowfall at any point in the year) we've had little experience driving in snowy/icy conditions other than when we've driven down south to go skiing. We're aiming to get there sometime in January or early Feburary next year and spend at least one month road-tripping.
We plan to fly to Boise and then travel up to Couer D'Alene via ID-55 and US Route 95, then continue to follow US-95 up as far as Bonners Ferry if we feel like it. Then we'll be heading back down to CDA and travelling along I-90 all the way down to Bozeman. From there we'll go back along I-90 and turn off up to Helena. We'll then travel down I-15 through Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Twin Falls, etc all the way back round to Boise.
So with that general outline, I have a few questions (numbered for convenience of reply, rather than for any particular order):
1) What are the chances of the roads being closed (especially ID-55, Route 95, I-90 and I-15), for how long could they be closed and are there any recommended alternative routes?
2) As someone who's spent little time in snowy areas, I'm quite paranoid about it. So, I plan on having more than enough warm clothes, sleeping bags rated for -30 F or lower, several days worth of food and water, blankets, tent, foam mats, strobe lights and anything else I can think of for when I get stuck in a month-long super-blizzard (I'm joking about the super-blizzard...I think...). Is there anything else I need to consider for travelling in snowy/icy conditions? Should I be renting a 4WD over a regular car? I'm assuming I'll want snow chains? Anything else you can think of?
3) Google Maps is telling me that our planned route will take 26 hours. As I said, we're planning on being in the US for at least a month. We'd like to be able to stop over in a few towns along the way, rather than just stay in 4 or so major cities/towns for several days each and then spend the rest of our time driving. Is this possible? Is 26 hours a realistic estimate of the total driving time spent or will travelling in snowy conditions mean that we have to travel much slower and take lots of long detours in order to go around closed-off roads? If it's not really very realistic to travel that in a month with many stops along the way, how about if we cut out the return to Boise and we simply travel around to Bozeman as planned, but then fly out from Bozeman to LAX then back to Sydney? Would that cut down the trip enough?
4) Accommodation: we aren't particularly fussy about where we sleep for a night, but we're wondering if we might run into towns which have no vacancies at their motels (due to ski season or something else). Is that likely? Also, we're experienced hikers and campers and over here we'll often just pull into a campground or national park and camp the night while on a roadtrip. Obviously camping in Australia is very different to camping in NW US in winter, but we're considering it as a last resort. Will it be easy enough to find a campground to stay at if we need to?
We've tried to research it quite a bit and we plan to research some more, but we thought we'd find out what others think about it. We'd greatly appreciate any thoughts and advice.
Thanks very much,