Mountain Wheels: Volkswagen showcases its 4Motion AWD system in Tahoe trip (column) |

Mountain Wheels: Volkswagen showcases its 4Motion AWD system in Tahoe trip (column)

Those of you who are in the professional ski business know the risks of a bad snow season, or the chaos that can be caused by too much of a good thing.

But with fingers crossed for some late-season improvement, let us focus on the positive — and a recent arrangement which seeks to help out ski instructors and bring a little extra focus to some solid all-winter automobile performance.

We spent a couple of days this week in Lake Tahoe learning more about the partnership between Volkswagen and the Professional Ski Instructors of America and the American Association of Snowboard Instructors. You may very well be active in one of those organizations, with more than 32,500 members at 400 winter resorts across the U.S.

For the past year, Volkswagen of America and the PSIA-AASI have teamed up, with 12 specially paint-wrapped VW all-wheel-drive vehicles making the rounds at the organizations’ eight divisions. Members also have the opportunity for some attractive discounts if they’re interested in VW’s range of 4Motion automobiles, including the larger Atlas SUV, the new Tiguan and the Golf Alltrack.

While I got to briefly drive the very colorful Atlas in use by the PSIA president, most of my on-the-road time was spent in the Alltrack, VW’s capable and comfortably-sized sport wagon.

Alltrack (not to be confused with the Audi Allroad or the Subaru Crosstrek, though the names all blur together after a while) offers an experience that’s in the same ballpark as the Audi AWD wagon, but has its own charms and positives.

The VW wagon, built off of the Golf platform, features a 170-HP 1.8-liter as its sole engine choice. The increasingly small group of us (sad news, if that is indeed true) who still like driving with a manual transmission do get the flexibility of choosing either a six-speed manual or a six-speed direct-shift-gearbox automatic.

I rolled up and over the Mt. Rose Highway from Reno to Incline Village and then along the North Shore all the way to Olympic Valley and the Squaw resort in the six-speed automatic version, and enjoyed the experience.

Power is not terrifyingly explosive but it seems perfectly adequate for hill climbing and some higher speed bursts along the freeway.

Luckily, the snow gods intervened on Tuesday night and a system that promised to bring as much as five feet of snow to the lake resorts hit, creating the right conditions to see the 4Motion system in action (plus some proper winter tires, so as to avoid the Tahoe-area inconvenience that is chain control checkpoints).

The 2018 Alltrack is equipped with a fifth-generation version of the all-wheel-drive system, which uses an electro-hydraulically controlled clutch pack differential to send power where it’s needed. While that focuses the power on front-wheel bias for most driving, saving fuel in the process, wheel slippage is instantly detected and the system can instantly redirect torque and control wheel spin.

The result is a confident feeling that absolutely ate up the fresh snow, packed ice and slush as we headed back down into Reno. The driving mode choices include a higher strung sport mode that was a little too lively for snow; if you’re headed off-road in the summer or want serious, deep-snow traction and speed control, the off-road mode might also be helpful.

Alltrack also features an all-around independent suspension and really does live up to its image as a sportier, easy-going but not awkwardly scaled wagon. There’s ample room in the expanded back cargo area, and seating is still comfortable for five.

Rounding things out, we spent the day cruising the slopes with ski instructors at Diamond Peak, a small, community-owned resort in Incline Village that was practically deserted during the half-sun, half-rainshowers day before the snow. Andy Levy, our instructor, was a longtime local with plenty of good advice, even for seasoned skiers, and helped to make the time on the hill a valuable outing.

In the meantime, pray for snow. We need it, everywhere.

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