Whenever it snows more than an inch on Washington, the city is subjected to a blizzard of scorn, accumulating to a depth of about a foot, from people who came here from other places and find it comical how incompetent the locals are at driving their cars in snow.

Newcomers and visitors from Duluth and Buffalo, Sioux City, Sauk Center, Billings and Burlington sneer at a city paralyzed by a thin coat of ice which, back where they come from, would hardly qualify as a heavy frost.

I've lived nearly all my life within a 30-mile radius of the Capitol, and have heard this line from one wave after another of northern immigrants, so it may sound as if I'm being a little defensive about this. But really, I wonder, is it such a big thing that those of us who grew up here can't drive in snow? Maybe it's not necessary that we learn.

Driving in snow requires practice, and we get very little snow and ice to practice on. This is probably just as well, because most of us think there are better things to do on a Saturday afternoon than assemble the family out on some icy road so they can watch admiringly as Dad exhibits the proper technique for letting the clutch out verrrry slowly and giving it just a little gas to avoid spinning the wheels of the Buick.

These are, to be sure, valuable skills to pass from one generation to another -- where necessary. But people from Minnesota and New Hampshire should realize that when they come here there is a different order of priorities. Here, people who want to look good driving in snow buy four-wheel-drive vehicles. The rest of us just drive until we run into a ditch or the battery goes dead in a traffic jam on Connecticut Avenue. Then we walk home and call in to the office.

This doesn't happen often enough to make a big difference anyway, and by not spending a great deal of time on snow driving we leave more time free to hone our skills in other pursuits, which range from archery to zymurgy to looking up words in the dictionary.

This afternoon while people in New York State are out driving 50 miles over glare ice to get a candy bar just to show they can do it, someone in Washington is probably sitting at home inventing a cure for the common cold, writing a Broadway play or working out a system for winning in the casinos of Atlantic City.

The works of people who have specialized in things other than driving in snow will be remembered long after all of the native drivers now motoring confidently across the northern plains have retired to Florida, their achievements in snow-driving gone with the cold west wind.

Travel this country (when the weather is warmer) and observe what sort of accomplishments the American people have chosen to memorialize in statuary. You will see sword-waving generals on horseback, brave pioneer women trudging west, poets looking into the distance and statesmen orating. Nowhere in the country, or in the whole world for that matter, will you find a statue of a man pumping gently on the brakes and steering his car in the direction of the skid.