Fun & Games at BMW’s Winter Driving

The first reason you’d take BMW Winter Driving Training? Safety. At least tell whoever you share your bank account with that. It involves an hour of in-class instruction and six more in the car. It genuinely helps you become a better driver.

You just happen to be grinning goofily while learning. Last month, I attended BMW’s Winter Driving Media Day with several other grinning auto writers. We were immersed in the essentials for control in winter conditions: steering, emergency braking and avoidance, correcting understeer and domineering oversteer.

BMW’s head instructor is Philippe Letourneau of Canada’s Worst Driver fame. In impeccable English, he simplified complicated concepts. Anxious as we all were to slip around on the custom ice courses BMW had designed at Montreal’s ICAR facility (a race track imagined into existence on the mostly empty tarmac of Mirabel airport) we enjoyed his talk. It began with the importance of correct seating. The short version: you’re probably too far back.

Letourneau followed that with a discussion of lifelong learning behind the wheel. His point? You get your license at sixteen, then aren’t summoned back to prove your worth as a driver till you’re eighty. Chances are, things have evolved in the intervening six decades. You’ve probably developed some bad habits.

But the most important lesson you’ll take from the day? Look where you want to go, not necessarily where you happen to be going. Here’s why . . .

The second reason you’d attend the BMW Winter Driving School is to slide around, instructed by professional drivers, in brand new rear-wheel drive BMW 435i’s and 435i xDrives (BMW’s all-wheel system). In test drives, you wouldn’t usually be allowed to take them into snow banks.

Throughout the day, we took turns in each model, doing exercises on different icy courses. First we’d drive with stability and traction controls on, then repeat the route without them. The differences are enlightening. It helps you understand just how much intervening your daily ride does — and how far automotive technology’s progressed since you got your license at sixteen.

The lessons included: emergency braking and avoidance—that is, speeding, braking hard and sliding away from cones within a tight space; reverse 180° speeding backwards, braking hard, spinning front to back and stopping in a box before accelerating away, now forward; and, greatest fun of all, cover steering—drifting diagonally for minutes at a time through what others call a figure eight or hourglass.

I, however, prefer ‘infinity symbol’ to describe the track. It captures the palpitating hyperaware feeling you get while achieving an extended drift.

Though a co-owner and former editor of DailyXY, Steven Bochenek is actually an advertising writer who does some journalism on the side. In 2011 he was accepted into the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada. His other interests include playing music, long-distance running, skiing and writing in the third person.

Photo courtesy of the author. 

This is a test