Three Peak Mountain Snowflake Tires: What they can — and can’t — do

Jack Baruth

If you’re taking I-70 across Colorado in January, you’re going to need real-deal snow tires. Not just because they’re a good idea, but because there might be a checkpoint along the way to make sure you’ve got them. If, on the other hand, you spend your whole life rollin’ in a 5.0 along Florida’s A1A, you probably don’t even need to know what a snow tire is. The rest of us? We’re in that in-between zone where a snow tire might be useful (or necessary) for between few days and a few months every year.

The ideal solution is to run dedicated snow tires on their own wheels during the winter, and a summer (or three-season) tire the rest of the time. The additional cost is lower than you’d suspect; after all, every mile you put on the winter tires is a mile you aren’t putting on the summer specials, making it a toss-up in terms of consumable costs. In states where the roads are salted or sprayed, you might also find that the decreased corrosion on your favorite wheels will justify having a set of “steelies” for the winter rubber.

Is there another alternative to this idea, other than sliding across snow-covered roads on tires that are better-suited to seven days in sunny June? There is, and it’s called the Three Peak Mountain Snowflake tire. These tires, identified by the symbol at the top of this article, have met some additional standards for winter-weather usability. For a lot of drivers, they could make the difference between a miserable winter and a tolerable one — but they do have some limitations. To find out more, we sat down with the industry experts at Tire Rack.

What is the Three Peak Mountain Snowflake tire, and how does that differ from M+S?

Strictly speaking, it’s an all-season tire that has passed an industry-standard acceleration test on medium-pack snow. Passing the test earns the logo. The test does not cover braking or cornering, although those qualities tend to shadow the acceleration abilities of a tire to some degree. Therefore, if you live in an era where you occasionally encounter mild snow conditions, a Three Peak Mountain Snowflake (let’s say “3PMSF” from now on) tire will help get you home.

To test this, we took one of Tire Rack’s favorite 3PMS tires and ran them on a Chevrolet Silverado for what turned out to be a reasonably serious Midwestern winter. Like most light-duty trucks, the Silverado was delivered with “M+S” tires. The M+S designation doesn’t come from a performance test; it simply recognizes certain tire tread blocks as being likely more suited for mud and snow.

As of today (March 11) we’d have to say that the winter experience was positive, and closer to traditional snow tire performance than an “A/T” or “M+S” style truck tire — with one exception, to be covered below.

What do I lose when I choose 3PMSF over a traditional all-season tire?

“For first-tier brands, like Continental, Michelin, Pirelli, or Bridgestone,” Tire Rack clarified, “the answer is usually… nothing at all. They have the same ride comfort and longevity as all-season tires without the logo.” The absence of the 3PMSF logo doesn’t mean the tires won’t perform on snow; Tire Rack told us that certain all-season tires without the logo are just as good, or better, than the average 3PMSF tire. (Call them if you want more details for your specific car.) The presence of the logo, however, is a guaranteed reassurance.

What are some advantages of dedicated winter tires?

Traditional winter tires, with their temperature-optimized rubber compounds and open-block tread designs, do a couple of things that 3PMSF all-seasons can’t. They’re particularly good for clearing slush or mixed-condition snow at higher speeds. They’re better at low-temperature braking and cornering. And while no tire is all that useful on slick ice, a winter tire might give you a better chance. Our test truck took a wild ride through a residential lawn in the middle of a freezing rainstorm; good thing there wasn’t a tree there! Would a dedicated winter tire have done better? Possibly.

What should I be careful of?

In Tire Rack testing, some off-brand tires with the 3PMSF symbol actually lost some wet-road traction compared to their non-3PSMF predecessors. What’s an off-brand tire? Go to any buy-here-pay-here lot that sells 2006 Bentley Continental GTs, look at the sidewalls of the tires, and write down all the names you see; that’s your list. (Or part of it, anyway.) So if you’re trying to minimize your new-tire cost, and you don’t expect to see any snow during your car’s life, it’s worth asking some tough questions.

Are there any other scenarios where I should avoid 3PMSF?

Probably not. Anywhere you get all four seasons, and the winter part of that isn’t too severe, the 3PMSF should make for a useful improvement over standard all-season tires. Planning on deep snow or unplowed freeways? You’ll want to make a different choice. Everyone else should at least consider a tire with the logo when they’re making their next choice. As always, Tire Rack has the details, but your local retailer should also be knowledgeable on the rating.

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