SASC Winter Driver Training

Motorsport Community Helping the Public with Winter Driving

January 26, 2014

The Southern Alberta Solosport Club (SASC) Winter Driving Training is a driver training course offered by volunteer racers who compete in Autocross/Solo, Rally, Rallycross, Kart & Road Racing.

Reijo Silvennoinen, school founder, heard of this type of school offered by a club in Ottawa before, but a bad accident in Alberta 2009 gave him the idea to start one up here.

Reijo said “ The collision in the fall of 2009 involved two cars …. one with 3 students from SAIT (where I was teaching at the time) who all perished in the crash, and one young woman in the other car with her toddler.  Only the toddler survived.  That seemed to be the “straw that broke the camel’s back” so to speak and I felt that I HAD to do something.

I had heard enough of the carnage on our streets and knew, that as racers, we could make a difference.  We had tools/skills that were useable on the streets that could prevent at least some of these collisions that I viewed as unnecessary.  At the least we could give people a fighting chance, or an idea of what they can do if and when they end up in a potential collision scenario.  That was the spark that started these winter driver training classes after thinking about this for almost a decade. This is one way the motorsports community can give back and help the local community.

We also have spring/summer time competition schools of various types that can be taken by the general public and learn a lot of the same concepts that we teach during the winter schools.“

The day before school starts all the volunteer instructors go over the course and instructions, to make sure everyone is on the same page.

The school kicks off in the classroom with some basic rules and expectations of the day’s events.

Areas covered in the classroom portion include:

  • Understand the limits.
  • 89.3% of accidents are driver error.
  • Project, Realize & React
  • Understand over steer & under steer.
  • Always scan ahead where you want to be.
  • Control, accident avoidance by what you can do.

Classroom time ends with students being split in to 3 groups.

Track training is held at Ghost Lake, just west of Cochrane, Alberta.

Before each section of track training there is a briefing designed to familiarize you  with what you are about to do, followed by a debriefing afterwards to discuss your performance and what you learned from it. An instructor is paired with the student in the car, to walk them through the exercises, and to ride along while the student attempts the required maneuvers.

The course is set up in 4 sections:

  •  Braking & Collision Avoidance
  • Oval & Square Box
  • Slalom
  • Road course

Braking & Collision Avoidance

The old way of braking involved pumping the brake, steering the vehicle where you want it to be, then releasing the brakes Frequently this caused the brakes to lock up.

Technology has changed braking with ABS/Anti-lock braking technology. With the newer technology you do not pump the brakes because when engaged, ABS will do it for you. Most people would not have pushed the brakes to the limit but when you slam on ABS/Anti-lock braking system it will kick back and make a horrible sound. This school gives you a chance to feel & hear these sensations.

You’re driving on a frozen lake where traction is not going to be your friend;  you have either glare ice or snow or both. The worst driving condition one can have is black ice which of course, that is what this is.

The first part of this section was on proper braking. Here, you’re going around a pre-set course testing the brakes to see what the response is. Part of this involves putting the vehicle into a 360° turn.

Next ‘up’ was collision avoidance. This involves driving down a straight away at set speed toward a wall of cones, then with no prior warning being told to either turn left or right. Quite a few drivers took out the cones instead of avoiding a collision. Many trips around the course gives the students lots of chances to experiment with different braking & lines through. This can be explained but it is nothing like the feel of the vehicle slipping and sliding on the ice. In the de-brief you can see how this relates to real life winter driving.

2. Oval & Square Box

Driving an oval in this exercise is all about steering, throttle & braking. You can feel the response of all three when you go around the oval. When the rear end of your vehicle slides sideways you have to learn how to properly correct it. Being an oval racer my self the proper steering & throttle is the best way to handle an oval.

The ‘Square Box’ exercise I found, was the same as a racing line which involves braking before a corner, going wide then coming into the apex of the corner and having the momentum straighten you out.

3. Slalom

One major key of doing slalom is looking ahead where you want to be. Next is trying different lines but always setting yourself up for the next turn.

4.  Road Course

The last part of the school is where the fun really begins: A road course is set up to work on all the new skills you just learned.

The school has approximately 30 volunteers (mostly racers) that are there to share their skills and help people learn how to drive in winter conditions. Whether you are a novice or veteran driver, this school would be of benefit to you. There are no books that can teach you how it feels to slide on ice, you have to feel it!

So if you live in Canada you can be a ‘snowbird’ for 6 months a year or you can learn how to drive in the winter. I have a teenage and when she wants to learn how to drive I will be taking her to both the winter driving school and spring/summer time competition schools.

The 2014 winter schools are sold out this year however, they get the occasional drop-out and people can still sign up on the wait list at the Karelo web registration site here: and search for SASC or contact Reijo Silvennoinen via email: or phone (403) 237-7007.

web sites: or

I would like to thank all these racers & volunteers who help run the schools. I have every confidence that their hard work helps to save lives.

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