So, after 3 and a bit winters in Canada I finally invested in a set of Winter tires. Up till now I've had a good set of all-seasons (Goodyear Assurance TripleTred) and they have been very good even coping with a sudden Calgary freeze last winter that saw accordian buses sliding back down the hill we were on (scary!) and general chaos on the roads.
But, driving on the Deerfoot on solid polished sheets of black-ice in rush-hour traffic is not nice and you could feel the car getting more than a little vague at times. It has AWD and is really good in the snow but I had to nurse it especially on the super-polished bits that develop at stop-signs and traffic lights. It's almost worse when it's melted a little and you are on pavement most of the time but suddenly on ice when you turn off onto a slip-road or side-street.
CanadianTire didn't inspire me with much confidence ("urm, yuh ... we have 17 inch tires and can sell you some 16 inch rims for them too", WTF?!?) so I ordered some Bridgestone Blizzak WS70's from TireRack mounted on rims. The delivery was very quick (less than a week from the US to Canada) and I bought a Torque Wrench and Hydraulic Jack from Costco (I figure if I have to switch tires twice a year I may as well get equipped for it!).
I put them on tonight and went for a 'spin' (pun intended) around the block. Wow, they are AMAZING! Accelerating and braking like a lunatic, even on the polished ice at traffic lights and the ABS didn't have to kick-in - it's like they defy physics. They seemed very quiet - I can't wait to try them on the commute to work tomorrow and will be searching out some polished ice to brake on (don't worry - I do check my mirror first!).
I feel like an idiot for spending previous winters on all-seasons. I knew winter-tires were 'better' (the worst winter tires are better than the best all-seasons) and I don't really have any frame of reference as they are my first winter-tires but I wasn't expecting them to be this much better. The ones I got did get very, very good reviews which I've linked to below.
The bottom line is: if you live anywhere where you get more than trivial amounts of snow and ice and are driving around on all-seasons then you are an eedjit like I was - get yourself a set of winter tires and be safe. If you want a really good set of winter tires then I can recommend the Blizzak WS70s and also TireRack - they had the most accurate information online for sizing (again the CanadianTire online recommendations were ridiculous) and I've only heard good things about them.