Winter driving school may not sound as exciting as high-performance driving school, but there is fun to be had, and worthwhile skills to learn, while driving a road course created on compacted snow and ice. Set in a hilly pasture outside the Colorado ski town of Steamboat Springs, the Bridgestone Winter Driving School teaches car control, skid recovery, and more from mid December to mid March. Each winter, about 3000 students attend, from teenagers who've stuffed one too many cars into a snow bank, to oil field workers who regularly drive in extreme conditions (Haliburton is a big customer), to skiers on vacation at the nearby Steamboat Springs resort who want to have a little four-wheeled fun in the snow.
We were there for the launch of a new Bridgestone Blizzak snow tire. (Bridgestone is a sponsor of the school, but doesn't own or run it.) The Blizzak WS60 hits stores this fall, and will replace the current WS50 and the Revo 1 as well. Long recognized for its hardcore snow performance, "Blizzak" is perhaps the best-known name in winter tires. Bridgestone claims several welcome improvements, however, for the newest version, specifically in the areas of ice traction, snow traction, dry-road handling, and quietness.
Our first exercise involved driving identical Toyota Camrys (the school uses all Toyota vehicles), one with the new Blizzaks and one with all-season tires, around the snow-covered course. Not surprisingly, the difference between the two was dramatic.
The Bridgestone Winter Driving School teaches the "separation of controls," meaning that the instructors want you to separate your braking and accelerating from your steering inputs. This is slightly different from what one learns at most high-performance driving schools, but it's the best way to deal with the extra-slippery conditions of winter.
We also practiced recovering from understeer and oversteer situations. Classes range from a single half day to two full days, and students in the longer sessions can move on to more advanced maneuvers, such as the "Scandinavian flick," a rally-style move to set a car up for controlled oversteer through a turn.
Prices range from $245 to $1550, and more info is available at the school's web site, winterdrive.com.