Class helps young drivers learn technique on snow |

Class helps young drivers learn technique on snow

A driver and instructor veer off course Wednesday during a lesson with Aspen Winter Driving Experience. (Mark Fox/The Aspen Times)

When young drivers lose control in snowy conditions and slide off the road at Aspen Winter Driving Experience, it’s not a tragedy but a learning experience.It’s even something the drivers can joke about.”I just can’t seem to save those little girls,” one student said when she smashed her Volvo through some cones representing a stopping point. “They need to get out of the road.”This year, local businesses including Aspen Real Estate, WestStar Bank and Alpine Bank have donated scholarship money for nearly 90 local high-schoolers to take a half-day course with Aspen Winter Driving Experience for $75 instead of the usual $250.

Grady Olsen, president of Aspen Winter Driving Experience, said the course helps correct bad habits and give people a better instinct for maintaining control of a car in bad weather so they can avoid the real accidents.”The kids are very responsive,” Olsen said. “They haven’t developed a bunch of bad habits yet.”Out of 135 people who took the program last year, he said, nearly 75 percent were between the ages of 15 and 21. This year he expects to get about 500 people through the program, more than half of them young drivers. In a typical half-day program students learn how to brake in the snow, how to swerve around a fixed object, how to make multiple quick turns, and how to drive around the whole track, taking corners, accelerating and decelerating. It’s not a cakewalk. Olsen emphasized that people get tense in the car. But it’s hard to imagine until you’re speeding toward cones and getting ready to swerve at 35 mph.

Brian Rankin, an adult student at the school for the day, drove around the cones and ended up in the snowbank, wheels spinning. “We’re going to need AAA,” Olsen said, laughing.”He had me go a little fast and I over-reacted in the second portion of the turn,” Rankin said. “The end result is that I’m in the ditch. I felt my adrenaline kick in. I was like, ‘Oh crap, I’m going to crash.'” But out on the course, instructors just get out the pickup and drag the car out of the snow, then send students around again.

“A lot of people aren’t comfortable on snow and ice,” Olsen said, “but we all have to drive on it. There have been three people killed in the last week, and they were all avoidable accidents.”Tom Dalessandri, former sheriff of Garfield County and police chief in Aspen, founded the course. This year the school has set aside five days to teach police from various departments in Colorado how to drive in winter conditions. The Aspen Police Department is sending 30 officers to take the course in February. The students who take the half-day course will get the same training as the police officers. “For the kids, we encourage a half-day, they just get tired, they’re tense,” Grady said. “The kids come back to us and say later, ‘You ought to see what my dad did.’ And when the dad takes the course he says, ‘I can’t believe how much of this I’m doing wrong.'”Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is

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