Michelin Winter Driving Academy with Carl Nadeau | Winter Tires

Michelin Winter Driving Academy

By Ronnie Fung, Autoblog

The first significant snowfall for the Toronto area occurred this week and it just so happens that we were coincidentally booked for Michelin’s Winter Driving Academy too; talk about perfect timing! The Academy, hosted by none other than professional race car driver, Carl Nadeau, took place at Exhibition Place in Toronto. The parking lot was a perfect setting for the winter driving obstacle course and skid pad configuration. The complete course, courtesy of Michelin, was full of treacherous black ice, high winds and a light smattering of snow still on the ground.

Winter (or snow) tires are still considered a voluntary thing in every province in Canada except for Quebec. Why this is the case is beyond us. As evidenced in a previous article concerning winter tires and why they are important, we think that they should be mandatory in every province with the exception of BC (as they do not get nearly as much snowfall as the rest of Canada in the lowland areas).

The day started off inside the heated HQ tent with Carl Nadeau giving us a brief overview of the day. Some of the points he touched upon were good reminders and served as a reinforcement for why winter and snow tires are vital to keeping you and others around you as safe as possible in winter driving conditions. Some of the key points that were mentioned:

When the temperature dips below 7 degrees celcius, the compounds of your common all-season are not up to snuff in the grip department; whether there is snow and ice on the ground or not.

  • ¬†Winter tires are mandatory in Quebec.
  • The stopping distances required in snowy or icy conditions with just several kilometres per hour variations can be vast. Adjusting your speed by even just 3 km/h can be the difference between catastrophe and a close-call.
  • One of the most common causes for accidents in winter driving involve black ice. All-seasons are simply unable to gain traction on ice.
  • For any car equipped with ABS (99 per cent of the cars on the road today), pumping the brake under any circumstance will require more stopping distance. Trust that the car will stop in a shorter distance with your foot firmly planted on the brake pedal.
  • Seating position is important. You legs should be close enough to the pedal that you can plant the brake pedal down to the floor without your leg being fully extended.
  • With your shoulders back against the seat, you should be able to rest your wrists on top of the steering wheel comfortably. This puts you in the optimal position to make steering corrections in a safe manner.

With the safety brief out of the way, it was off to the races (well, errr, safe and controlled winter driving, we mean)! Our test vehicle for the day was a brand new Chevrolet Cruze with Michelin’s new X-Ice (Xi3) winter tires installed.

The first part of the obstacle course highlights the effectiveness of the Xi3s by sending us at varying speeds at a snow and ice covered skid pad and stomping on the brakes. We’re happy to report that the braking distance of the Xi3s were quite good and the tires bit through the snow and ice in an effective manner. True to the safety brief with Carl, what we found that was the most eye-opening was the amount of distance required with just a 3 km/h speed difference when the brakes were applied.

Now imagine how much of a difference 20 km/h makes in snow and ice. There’s always at least one person in a snow storm that thinks that just because they’re in an SUV with 4WD or AWD that they can drive significantly faster. They’re also often the ones whom we end up passing several km down the road as they’re stuck in a ditch. Braking distance is not changed whether you have an AWD, RWD or FWD vehicle; food for thought. Keep your distance and adjust your speed accordingly.

The second exercise was cone avoidance under heavy braking. The idea was to accelerate towards the cone on the skid pad and hit the brakes as hard as we could upon reaching the pad. We had roughly 10 metres in which we could brake and steer away from the cone. Again, speed variations made all the difference. We tried the exercise at 25 km/h, 28 km/h and 30 km/h respectively. We are happy to report that we only “killed” one cone during this exercise, due to imprecise and panicked steering inputs by yours truly. Points that we took away from this exercise were that smooth inputs and correct speeds for the conditions make all the difference

Our next exercise was random collision avoidance. With Carl Nadeau as our personal instructor for the day, we were told to accelerate as quickly as we could towards a marshall at the end of the ice and snow covered skid pad. The marshall would at the last moment hold up a safety pylon to the left or the right and at that point, we’d be forced to make an emergency lane change under full braking. Again, the tires performed acceptably and the importance of smooth inputs was again highlighted.

The final exercise for the day was slide correction on the skid pad. The object of the exercise was to drive in a large circle while the instructor would randomly pull on the hand brake mid-corner. This would cause your back end to swing around and our job was to correct via counter steering and smooth throttle input to keep things under control.

In conclusion, the winter tires performed as they should. We were able to stop within a reasonable distance. We were able to steer and make direction changes on ice and snow. On a car equipped with all-season tires, none of the exercises would have been possible and we’re more sold than ever on the importance of installing winter tires over all-season tires. Don’t be caught out this year.