Feature: Mini winter driver training winter driving mini insights advice health and safety auto articles
Mini winter driver training. Click image to enlarge

Article and photos by Grant Yoxon

Mirabel, Quebec — Just when we thought winter was done for 2012, we get wacked by a fast moving, intense winter storm. Within minutes city traffic slows to a near halt as white-out conditions sweep in from the East and the streets fill with heavy, wet snow. It is the kind of snow we all love and hate – perfect for making snowmen and snowballs and perfect for slip sliding all over the place as the compressed snow turns to ice.

Jammed up winter traffic is frustrating, but on the positive side, it prevents chaos. Very few of us really know how to drive when the conditions get nasty. We stay on the road thanks to the slow speed of traffic or just plain good luck.

It is only when the brakes refuse to brake, when the steering wheel won’t steer, or when the rear end suddenly decides to overtake the front, and you don’t swerve off the road or hit another object, that you thank that plain good luck for saving your life.

My driver training never prepared me for tough winter driving. Everything I learned about winter driving, or failed to learn, came from the mistakes I made. And I suspect I’m not alone.

Feature: Mini winter driver training winter driving mini insights advice health and safety auto articles
Mini winter driver training. Click image to enlarge

It doesn’t have to be that way. Winter driver training schools are gaining in popularity with courses offered by local driving schools and driver training companies, motorsports clubs and auto manufacturers. Get on-line to find out what is available in your area if the idea of a professional winter driver training course interests you.

Recently, I attended a course being pilot tested by Mini Canada. If all goes well, the course may be offered more widely next year.

While most courses teach the basics of stopping, turning and handling a skid, the Mini course is a bit different. This course uses a variety of fun exercises in a rally-like environment – employing rally racing manoeuvres to get from one point to another as quickly and safely as possible – to help you get comfortable with a car in slippery conditions and to learn the key elements vital to improving winter driving at normal city or country speeds.

Navigating a twisty mountain road in a Mini Cooper S or the new Mini Countryman can be a lot of fun; even more so if you get the opportunity to push these fun-to-drive vehicles to the limit on a closed road race-track. But nothing can compare to the fun – and personal satisfaction – of controlling them on sheer ice using the skills and knowledge of a rally racer.

Feature: Mini winter driver training winter driving mini insights advice health and safety auto articles
Mini winter driver training. Click image to enlarge

You may never use these competitive skills in any on-road situation. I know I won’t. But the off shoot of the rally racing fun is that you learn, quickly, how a vehicle behaves when traction has been lost, how to turn a skid into an opportunity to regain control, and how to brake as quickly and safely as possible without losing steering control.

The Mini Canada course is offered under the guidance of Philippe Letourneau, BMW Group Canada’s chief driving instructor. Philippe is Chief Instructor with the Jim Russell Racing School at Le Circuit Mont Tremblant and has many years of experience as a driver competing in race series both in Canada and Internationally, from Karting to Formula Atlantic.

For this pilot test, Philippe brought along former World Rally Championship competitor Rauno Aaltonen, known as the “rally professor” to provide some classroom instruction and to give the students a hands-on, in-car demonstration of the techniques rally competitors use to win races, the same driving techniques that could save your life on an icy highway.

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