The Land Rover Experience Driving School
Teaching Rock 'n' Roll
By Alain Gayot
Seriously, when was school ever fun? Well, this one is a totally satisfying experience and you’ll be sad when it’s over. But the good news is that you can keep going back to the Land Rover Experience Driving School — and in four different settings. Post graduation, you might even be tempted to join the Land Rover enthusiasts and drivers on one of their adventures to use all the new driving techniques learned.
We headed to California’s blissful Carmel Valley and the equally scenic California Highway 1 to see what these cars could really do. Base camp turned out to be the Peninsula Group’s posh Quail Lodge Golf Club. Trust us, with an array of mechanical developments and never-before-seen electronics, these adventure-minded luxury automobiles will rock and roll you in complete comfort and safety. And there are no constricting required helmets like at racetrack schools.
After having ascended a few mountain chains and crossed a rather sizeable number of deserts — including the great Sahara — on several continents with relatively less sophisticated equipment, we were very interested to learn what the driving school could teach us. At the end of the day, it’s all the same beat, but it’s the means to get there that have changed. Look at it this way, even though there might be computers in the classroom today, kids are still taught to read the same words and count the same numbers as they were back when you were a kid.
There is no pressure (other than from yourself) and no exam, but you will receive a glossy framed certificate upon completion. So relax and enjoy what your courteous instructor has in store for you. Classes range from a one-hour lesson to a series of full-day adventures: scenic, advanced and standard. We picked the latter.
After a well-deserved lunch at the Quail Lodge Golf Club's dining room, Edgar’s, we headed for the hills on the Quail Wellness Trail. Land Rover’s Lead Instructor Greg Nikolas, who has logged countless miles in Army Humvees, six-wheel-drive trucks and other all-terrain vehicles on multiple continents, was in the cockpit to demonstrate what our afternoon was going to be like. He will teach you about the three angles you need to keep in mind to preserve your ride while off road. “It all boils down to driving skills,” says Greg, “and this is what we teach you here.” Since we don’t want to spoil the surprise entirely, we’ll let you look at the photos and report that the hardest thing to do was to let the electronics take over as the car heads straight down a rocky hill and you are told not to apply the brakes! Although the instructors teach you specific approach angles, trying out different ones is half the fun. You can go over the same course a dozen times, using different approaches and you would not get bored.
The association between Quail Lodge Golf Club and Land Rover is a close one, with Land Rover personnel on hand every day for those who want to participate in the program. Also, reservations for club recreational activities and the school can be made by contacting the same place via internet or phone. This set-up is echoed on the east coast at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C., where it’s more about red muddy clay, Quebec’s Fairmont Le Château Montebello, where you’ll get to experience ice and snow during the winter, and the Equinox Resort in Vermont's Green Mountains, where drivers tackle mountainous rock and boulder covered courses. Obstacles and terrain are unique to each school, but guests take away proper off-road driving skills from each like ascents, descents, rock crawling, winching and vehicle recovery. The schools rigorously follow the tenets of the non-profit organization Tread Lightly, which is dedicated to the safe and environmentally responsible use of off-road vehicles.
All in all, the schools are primarily for owners to learn about their Land Rovers, and make a great gift for your adventurous partner — even if they don’t drive one of these British off-roaders. CEOs have also used it as a team-building experience — or as an excuse to get out of the office for a few days and still get paid. And don’t worry, the school is not a disguised dealership, so there is no sales pitch (although don’t be surprised if a Land Rover brochure shows up in your mailbox). Rather, it’s all about learning off-road techniques you can take with you to trails around the world.