Slip, sliding away
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – If you have ever found yourself with white knuckles and tense shoulders after driving on snow packed roads, you should take advantage of a resource just one-and-a-half hours north of Summit County in Steamboat Springs. Whether you’re new to the High Country, or a veteran of winter driving, the Bridgestone Winter Driving School can help you take the stress out of navigating our icy roads.Starting with a beginner half-day program that teaches the basic mechanics of skids, slides and spins, and accident avoidance, up to an extreme high-performance multi-day class for driving professionals, the school offers numerous programs on a number of levels.
I was lucky enough to take one of the beginner classes. Instructor Travis Mason told us, “There are two primary types of students: those who are over-confident who need to be brought down, and those that are under-confident and need to be brought up. What we strive for is a middle ground of confidence in any road condition.”Each class starts with a short video and classroom lecture before you’re assigned a vehicle to drive. That’s when you can practice all of the skills learned in the classroom. The school has a large fleet of new Toyotas with Bridgestone Blizzak snow tires. The school maintains three tracks just a couple miles west of downtown Steamboat, where meticulous care has been taken to create a slick surface with more than 200,000 gallons of frozen water and lots of curves, banks and turns. The school is open from mid-December to mid-March and employs eight professional driving instructors. Class sizes are small, from 6 to 12 depending on the class, and each class focuses on getting its students lots of time behind the wheel. My first time driving I had sweaty palms and my shoulders were so tense I could hardly turn my neck. I was very nervous. I was one of the “under-confident” students. After two laps around the track at “granny” speeds, the instructor took me as a passenger into his vehicle, where he put the car into controlled spins and took the entire track at a speed of about 35 mph. I found myself holding on for dear life and got the jittery stomach you get after an amusement park ride.
Once back in my own vehicle, the instructor gave instructions from a two-way radio so each student can take the track at a speed they are comfortable with to do the exercises. Skills mastered in the First Gear half-day class I participated in were weight transfer, over-steering recovery, under-steering recovery, and cadence braking.The instructor has the students go around the track, accelerate to about 25 mph (which feels much faster on icy track) and then you hear “Lift!” over the radio … getting yourself to quickly remove your foot from the accelerator to induce the spin is not a natural response. It took me three runs around the track to actually cause my first spin. Once I did, I stopped being nervous and had fun.After doing my first 180, I finally earned the confidence that the track’s design would keep the cars from rolling – my personal biggest fear going in to the class. I also quickly got over my instinct to hit the brakes when I started moving in a direction I didn’t intend to go, learning to firmly hit the accelerator, which allows the wheels to continue to spin and regain traction on the highly polished track.
Two hours behind the wheel with radio instruction made a world of difference. I was actually looking forward to how much of a tail spin I could induce with each lap, and when it came time for a final spin around the track with the instructor at even higher speeds, I was laughing and taking photos – no longer holding on for dear life. I was able to use my new confidence right away as a late February blizzard and whiteout rolled into town. I was able to pass people safely on the highway and no longer slide through the stop sign on the exit ramp on my way to work. I highly recommend taking this course to anyone who wants to improve their confidence on our slick Summit County roads. Classes start at $245 per person and some insurance companies will give you a discount for completing this defensive driving training. Call your agent.To register or find out more about the Bridgestone Winter Driving School call 1-800-WHY-SKID or visit their web site at http://www.WinterDrive.com.
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