Harnessing The Beast at Le Chateau Montebello
“As slow as possible but as fast as necessary,” says my calm instructor, “It’s the Land Rover creed.”
The U.S. boasts Land Rover driver training centers in North Carolina and California, but Canada has just one, at Le Chateau Montebello, in Montebello, Quebec. It’s a popular place. Not only do hotel guests and conference delegates sign up for the two, four and six-hour courses, but the Center also draws Land Rover purchasers from across the county.
Wondering about the wisdom of flying across the country for a driving lesson? You haven’t tried a Land Rover. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever piloted before.
Land Rover driving is all about terrain response, the signature feature of the line. Designed to provide the precise reaction required on any given surface - ranging from grass, gravel and snow, to mud and ruts, to sand, to rocks - terrain response harnesses the Land Rover’s more than 2,800 kgs of metal.
My first taste of terrain response came early.
“This,” said my instructor as we pulled into Fairmont Kenauk, a 265 sq. km. private forest reserve owned by Le Chateau Montebello, “is where you’ll get to know the vehicle.”
The training area, which looks like a giant’s sandbox, studded with rock piles, deeply rutted trails, enormous mucky puddles and a stone-lined river bed, has been built to Land Rover’s exacting specifications. It’s designed to introduce drivers to both the vehicle’s capabilities and, all too often, to their own limitations as operators.
Think you know everything because you’ve had your driver’s license for a few decades? Think again.
Lessons starts slowly - a disappointment for Mario Andretti wannabees but when you’re driving a $70,000 vehicle you’re not going to be allowed to wreck it.
It doesn’t take long for the tension of real adventure to set in.
Driving less than two kms/hour can cause you to break out into a cold sweat because you’re concentrating so hard. This is serious stuff.
With my instructor riding shotgun, I shifted into drive, feeling keenly aware of the size of the vehicle. It took a moment to gain confidence, but I was soon rolling around the flat bits of the course.
“Shuffle your hands on the wheel,” my instructor advised, “so you always have a firm grip. Thumbs up… hands at nine and three o’clock. If the vehicle jerks, you need to hang on.”
Land Rover drivers use a ‘pull down’ steering technique.
“Pull down right a quarter turn…good…now another quarter….perfect…edge forward…”
Sound precise? It is. Driving a Land Rover involves making many small technical movements to enable the terrain response, steering, ABS brakes and hill descent systems to maneuver over, around and through obstacles that would stop other vehicles dead in their tracks.
Off-roading is no mindless pursuit…it’s all about concentration and learning to trust the vehicle.
The forest trails had enough slippery rocks, mucky ruts and sheer drops to satisfy the biggest thrill seeker, but we easily navigated routes I’d have thought too narrow, too muddy and too steep for a mountain bike…or a mountain goat, for that matter. Over my two training days, I drove a Land Rover and the more expensive Range Rover, and fell madly in love with both. If I ever win the lottery, I’m buying a whole fleet, but in the meantime, I’m going to tell every Land Rover driver I see to head for Le Chateau Montebello. They need to get to know the beast they have in harness.