Lessons on ice: Special schools provide winter driving classes

Does the sight of the first snowflake make you wish you could park your car until spring? You might benefit from a special winter driving class that teaches you how to stay safe on the road despite the snow and ice.
One of the oldest in the country is the Bridgestone Winter Driving School in Steamboat Springs, Colo., which was founded in 1983. Today, the school provides several different levels of classes on safe winter driving to assist everyone from novice drivers to seasoned professionals. Students in all courses have the opportunity to practice their driving skills under supervision on one of the three specially designed ice- and snow-covered tracks.
Bridgestone's introductory/refresher course is called First Gear, but the program most in demand, according to its website, is its Second Gear class. For this six-hour class, students receive initial classroom instruction, including videos and discussion, and then move with the instructors to a half-hour track and vehicle orientation. In the program's final portion, students are guided, via radio, through four and a half hours of practice exercises on the Bridgestone track. They learn about everything from braking techniques for snow and ice, to the proper way to accelerate, to vehicle weight transfer, to accident avoidance techniques.
The school also offers sessions for more advanced motorists interested in performance driving under challenging road and weather conditions.
The cost of the Bridgestone Winter Driving School ranges from $270 for the First Gear program to more than $2,000 for the performance-level classes. The sessions are held seven days a week, from mid-December through the first week in March.
If your budget can't stretch to cover the cost of the Bridgestone program, you may want to consider Michigan Technological University's Winter Driving School. The $150 full-day course, held at the school's Keweenaw Research Center vehicle testing site, is designed to provide drivers with the tools and the confidence they need to deal with dangerous winter roads.
Like the Bridgestone program, MTU's Winter Driving School begins with classroom sessions during which instructors cover topics ranging from tires and braking to panic avoidance. Participants then receive some one-on-one in-vehicle driving instruction in one of the school's vehicles (there are several different models available) before heading out to the private, snow-covered driving course. There the students learn -- hands on -- how to brake in three different scenarios, how to use steering control rather than braking on wintery roads, how to correct for over-steering and under-steering, and how to control a vehicle using its own weight.
If you own a Ferrari -- and money isn't a problem -- Ferrari's Winter Driving Experience might be just what you're looking for. The two-day program features Ferrari's new four-wheel-drive FF vehicles and helps Ferrari owners learn to deal with the challenges of snow and ice driving. The classes, like the cars themselves, are expensive; the program fee is $11,300. That price does include lodging in Aspen, Colo., where Ferrari holds the program.

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