2012 Mountain activities

Looking to channel your inner Sébastien Loeb, or simply to learn a few tips for driving on slippery roads? With your safety in mind, numerous stations now offer courses that teach visitors how to stay safe while driving in winter conditions. 

Fun, not fear

If you are planning a trip to the mountains, chances are you love the snow. So instead of being apprehensive about the drive, why not enjoy it? A driving safety course for slippery conditions is the answer.

Guillaume Mauge, a driver-instructor who frequents circuitssuch as Chamrousse and Serre-Chevalier, observes that these courses attract two very different types of public: “First, those seeking to be reassured, by learning to better handle their vehicles while driving in snowy conditions, and second, those who want to have fun with their vehicles on little-frequented roads and in deserted parking lots.”

Regardless of your motivation, be warned that driving on ice is a whole other world from driving on asphalt.  “One must be aware that, due to the weak adherence to the surface, one cannot steer the car with the steering wheel. Braking, which transfers of the weight from the back to the front of the vehicle, is what permits one to pivot the vehicle. On the ice, it is the brakes that allow you to turn, acceleration that allows you to stop turning, and the steering wheel that serves as a brake,” he says.  

Improve your performance

In each of the driving schools, different types of courses are offered. Initiation, or “first degree” courses (stages premier degré) focus on safety. “You will learn to drive without sliding, stop on a slippery surface, and also to do a 180-degree turn,” says Mauge. Courses are normally one instructor per two students. “We often learn more quickly as passengers, because that way we can observe what not to do,” he continues.

You can also opt for a more intensive 4-to-8 hour course, for a more hands-on experience. Here you will learn, for example, to enter a turn while braking in order to place your vehicle in the best possible position. “You will really enjoy sliding in your vehicle, even at low speeds, especially given that the result of each turn is different, depending on how you handle it,” affirms Mauge.

In most courses, you will learn to handle a standard front-wheel drive vehicle. In more advanced courses, you will also have the opportunity to test an all-wheel drive. Certain schools also allow you to test the circuit in your own vehicle. Note that a simple course will not turn you into a candidate for the Andros Trophy (the French national ice-racing championship, with famous frontmen including Alain Prost, Olivier Panis and Jean-Philippe Dayraut). “Andros drivers train with light, 850-kilo vehicles – half the weight of a typical sport utility vehicle or lambda – with half-width, studded tires. The vehicles are 4-wheel drive. And aside from specialised equipment, ice-driving takes a huge amount of practice, in order to find the balance between sliding and not sliding,” says Mauge.

Certain stations in which the Andros Trophy is held including l’Alpe d’Huez, Serre-Chevalier, Isola 2000, Tignes, Flaine, Chamrousse, le Val d’Allos and Chamonix have permanent ice-driving circuits. So grab the wheel, bonne route, and bonne glisse!

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