Winter Driving: An Aussie on Ice winter driving
Winter Driving: An Aussie on Ice winter driving
Winter Driving: An Aussie on Ice winter driving
Winter Driving: An Aussie on Ice. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Jacob Black

“I’m sure all of you automotive journalists know all this stuff already, so really today I just want to show you what we do here and what we do with the consumers,” said Carl Nadeau, professional race car driver and Michelin’s resident winter driving expert.

“You all would have driven on snow and ice quite often…”

“Ahem…”

“Yes?”

“Um, not me. This will be the first time I ever drove on ice or snow.”

The stares were intimidating, the open-mouthed looks of disbelief almost amusing. “Oh, well then you should go in the car with me,” Nadeau said.

You see, where I’m from, winter is when it rains a bit. I’ve been in Canada over a year now, and so I’ve seen snow and been in the cold, but last year I wasn’t driving – I had no need to. So this is my first actual winter behind the wheel, and those around me have been quick to explain that if I don’t learn all the tips and tricks I’ll probably crash into a ditch, get stranded and die of hypothermia.

With that in mind, Senior Editor Jonathan Yarkony decided to send me out to Michelin’s Winter Driving Academy. Here I’d learn to feel for slip and slide on black ice, learn how to properly brake and steer, and learn to correct skids, all in a controlled environment using cones as obstacles and Chevrolet Cruzes equipped with Michelin X-Ice tires as learning tools.

First – as at all driving academies – the instructors took us through the correct seating position; leg still bent even with the brake pedal fully depressed (or with your foot under the pedal against the firewall), arm still bent with your wrist on top of the steering wheel, enough thigh clearance to turn the wheel lock to lock comfortable in your hands. Sorry to all the youth at the Friday night MacDonald’s car park gathering, that seat-back, one-arm extended driving style is not the right way to drive. Turns out Nanna had it right all along.

Next, we were given a lesson on the science of winter tires versus all-seasons. I asked if you really need winter tires in the city, where there is no snow because the roads are plowed…

“This is the worst misconception there is,” Nadeau explained. “Most people think winter tires are only if you drive in ice or snow, but the problem with regular or all-season tires is that the rubber compound gets super hard. Basically it turns into a hockey puck.

“Even if you drive on regular dry asphalt and it looks all good, the tires get so hard that if you have to brake in an emergency situation there is just no grip there. So of course a winter tire is also going to help you if it’s icy, or if there is a lot of snow, but if it’s minus 20 and dry, you’re in trouble [on an all-season tire].”

So the advert is true! If you can see your breath, time for winter tires.

Winter Driving: An Aussie on Ice winter driving
Winter Driving: An Aussie on Ice. Click image to enlarge

The rest of the lesson was about being smooth, being concise in your movements and looking ahead, planning escape routes, always looking where you want to go – never where you don’t. All these are lessons which are good in any weather, not just ice.

I was reminded of my motorcycle lessons and the lessons learned driving on gravel back in Australia. Be smooth, gentle, look far ahead, and look where you want to go – as on bikes, so ye shall do on ice.

After the theory, it was time for the practical lessons. Once our seating position was checked and approved (passed first time!) we were asked to do some straight-line braking tests. First we were told to panic and lock our arms to see what effect that had on our driving. To be honest, everyone in my car had trouble doing it – I guess we all had good teachers back in the day and had developed the good habit of maintaining a relaxed grip in emergencies. Still, we were able to induce a bit of unsettled wiggle and a longer stopping zone as a result.




About Jacob Black

Jacob used to write about motorsport for SPEED TV in Australia but met a girl. Now he writes about road cars in Canada and is married to the girl. He lives a very, very good life. Jacob Black is not a werewolf.