The reaction of most sane drivers to snow or ice is to slow down and avoid dangerous maneuvers. The Bridgestone Winter Driving School in Colorado takes the opposite tack. In the name of training safe drivers, they put students in calamitous situations on a closed course and have them rehearse the most common problems—over and over again.
The oversteer skid is the scariest. The rear tires lose grip and the car’s back end suddenly wants to be in front. It occurs when you enter a corner too fast, so, of course, the instructors urge the members of the class to do just that. The solution—at least for front- and all-wheel drive cars—is totally counterintuitive: accelerate, albeit gently. This transfers weight and traction back to the rear tires. Once you’ve corrected a skid on the safety of the track, it’s hard not to feel like a hero.
Since its founding in 1983, the BWDS has churned out about 89,000 such heroes, among them professionals (truck, bus and fleet drivers), government employees (state police, FBI and Secret Service agents), auto enthusiasts and the general public. This is its 37th consecutive season.
Instructors are all veterans of ice, road and stock car racing. The 77-acre driving campus includes three ice- and snow-covered tracks representing a variety of conditions. Tracks are ultra-slippery, coated with water and feature numerous challenges. Snowbanks separate oncoming lanes to protect you when you spin or slide out of control—and you will. To further simulate real driving conditions, Bridgestone’s Blizzak snow tires are paired with a range of street-legal Toyota vehicles. Those looking for instruction in high-performance vehicles should consider the McLaren Arctic Experience.
The Colorado school operates seven days a week from mid-December through early March, offering five packages of varying lengths and intensity. Safety Classes range in price from $299 to $549 and Performance Classes from $1,185 to $2,995. Programs draw heavily on techniques borrowed from the world of off-road rally racing. All are applicable to any vehicle, even a motorhome.
Rule No. 1? Look where you want to go. Seems simple, but most students are shocked to learn that instead they instinctively stare at impending doom—the tree or guardrail we pray to not hit—rather than steering to open space.