Are you an expert driver on Eagle Co. ice? | VailDaily.com
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Are you an expert driver on Eagle Co. ice?

Melanie Wong
Vail, CO Colorado
Photo courtesy of the Rocky Mountain Audi ClubA student at the Georgetown Lake Ice Driving School navigates the track during a drill. Driving the track required all the winter-driving skills that students learned throughout the one-day course.
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GEORGETOWN, Colorado ” As I stepped on the accelerator, I could hear my tires spinning out on the slick ice.

Suddenly my driving instructor, watching from the passenger seat of my car, pulled the emergency brake and gave my steering wheel a swift jerk, sending my little Mini Cooper spinning in circles across the ice.

Normally, that might be my cue to slam on the brakes or brace myself and scream. Or both. But I was at the Georgetown Lake Ice Driving School, and this was Spin and Swerve Correcting 101.

The fact that my car started spinning actually meant I corrected either too much or too little, so my instructor had me try it again. When the car began to swerve, my job was to try and keep it “on the road,” or in this case, pointed toward an orange cone in the middle of the lake.

“Just steer toward the cone. Keep your eyes on it,” my instructor said calmly as I turned the steering wheel madly.

I was pleased to find my car straightened out quickly, with just a few controlled turns of the wheel. We discussed what to do in a situation when your car is spinning. The idea is to get your wheels straight. If your wheels are straight, you will either skid to a stop or regain enough control to brake.

Sounds pretty self-explanatory, right? Maybe, but it is a different matter when in a split second your car is hurtling out of control.

The first reaction many people have when they lose control is to slam on the brake, but usually that is just what you do not want to do, said instructor Kasim Esmail.

Braking locks up the wheels, making it harder to control the car, and smooth, controlled steering is what will get the car where you want it to go, he explained.

And that is really what the ice driving classes are all about ” learning in a safe environment to break those panic reflexes, and figuring out what it feels like to regain control of the car.

The Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Audi Club holds the ice driving classes a few times each winter. My class had about 20 students, and we were split into groups so we could get individual attention from the instructors.

And don’t worry, you don’t have to have an Audi. There were Subaru station wagons, my Mini Cooper, and even a little Volkswagen out there, too. Using your own car allows you to learn how your own vehicle feels, the instructors said.

The classes are held on Georgetown’s windy, frozen lake, which the instructors assured us was at least a foot thick.

“If you hear the ice cracking, don’t worry,” Esmail said. “It’s normal.”

I can’t tell if he is joking.

However, once we get on the ice, it does look pretty thick. The instructors had cones set up all over the lake for different drills.

We learned how to weave around cones and turn on the ice. The drills were designed to simulate some common winter driving situations. What should you do when your car fishtails, or when it “understeers” ” which is when a car keeps going straight even though the wheels are turned?

First off, no jerky motions. It usually took me a few runs through the drills and a couple wild turns to figure out how much to turn the wheel, how fast my car could make turns, and when to counter steer.

I imagined getting onto Dowd Junction via the switchback highway ramp and took note.

One of the most useful drills was a braking exercise. We accelerated toward four cones set up in a box. The idea was to figure out by trial and error when we needed to brake in order to stop inside the box.

At first I stopped far too short. Then I braked too hard and felt the rumbling of my anti-lock brakes. Optimal braking is when you hit the spot right before the anti-lock brakes activate, the instructor said.

Finally I did it, stopping squarely in the box.

Honestly, I am not the most likely candidate for driving on frozen lakes. Some other students took particular joy out of launching their cars into 360s, but I didn’t quite feel the same way.

I don’t like driving in general, and I especially don’t like driving in snowy or icy conditions. And that is precisely why this course was great for me. I felt far more confident in my ability to handle my car when the day was over, and other students said they felt the same way.

Evergreen resident Mary Hashem said she has had several close calls on icy roads, and this course made her feel safer.

“It’s great to practice where all you can hit is cones,” she said. “I work in downtown Denver, and it’s about an hour drive, but it’s curvy and mountainous, and there are certainly times it is dicey conditions.”

Georgetown Lake Ice Driving School: http://www.audiclubrmc.org

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 748-2928 or mwong@vaildaily.com.


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