We developed a snake robot with a partitioned gait and snake-like anisotropic friction and used it as a physical model to understand stability principles. The robot traversed steps as high as a third of its body length rapidly and stably. However, on higher steps, it was more likely to fail due to more frequent rolling and flipping over, which was absent in the snake with a compliant body. Adding body compliance reduced the robot’s roll instability by statistically improving surface contact, without reducing speed. Besides advancing understanding of snake locomotion, our robot achieved high traversal speed surpassing most previous snake robots and approaching snakes, while maintaining high traversal probability.