I’m in the southern part of Vermont. The temperature displayed on the crisp LCD screen in front of me reads 34 degrees Fahrenheit. I sit inside a 2010 Land Rover Range Rover and my body is warmed by the heated seats, the dark leather and wood trim, my Helly-Hansen snowboard pants (which I haven’t worn in two years, yet thankfully still fit), and a multi-zone heating system. Outside of my comfortable little world however, Mother Nature is using all the white paint in her tray. So far the accumulation is around two feet, with no signs of letting up. But like I said earlier, I am in a 2010 Range Rover and the instructor riding shotgun is telling me to give it more gas. As Jimi Hendrix once asked, “Are you experienced?” … I am now.
Land Rover has established driving schools around the world, with four locations in North America. They can be found at Quail Lodge in Carmel Valley, California; the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina; the Fairmont Le Château Montebello in Montebello, Quebec; and at the Equinox located in Manchester, Vermont. Each school is staffed by a crew of knowledgeable and friendly Land Rover enthusiasts who just happen to have a passion for off-roading as well. I was invited by Land Rover to attend the school at the Equinox Resort in Vermont.
The resort, established in 1769, is located in a particularly scenic section of Vermont known as Manchester Village. It has a classically New England exterior mixed with wonderfully modern rooms and a state of the art spa. Today it is part of the Starwood Hotels group, yet I don’t think past guests such as Presidents Taft, Harrison, Grant, and Teddy Roosevelt were card-carrying members. Nevertheless, activities range from pedicures in the spa (Dearthair’s favorite) to archery and falconry lessons, and finally world-class eating and drinking (one of my favorites). My focus on this trip wasn’t the good life however, it was the fleet of 2010 Land Rover vehicles parked a few snowy steps down the street at the Experience school office.
Land Rovers are too often sucked into a life perpetual exterior cleanliness and on-road-only excursions. These particular Land Rovers have been freed from the pack and were now set to guide a group of journalists through a day-long snowy (emphasis on SNOWY) journey. Quietly idling in a neat line were the 2010 Land Rover LR4, Range Rover Sport, and Range Rover all with LED head and taillights gleaming through the fluff filling the air.
My chariot of choice for the first half of the day was the alpha-vehicle, the 2010 Land Rover Range Rover. I had never driven the full-size luxo-beast so I thought it was the perfect starting point to begin my off-road career. I was right. The snow was so deep that we required chains for traction but that was the only part of the vehicle that wasn’t stock. Thankfully, all 2010 Land Rover vehicles come equipped with Terrain Response®. Not simply a gimmick stuck to the center stack, Terrain Response® allows me to choose between settings for standard, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud & Ruts, and Sand. Suspension adjustments and changes to throttle response are different for each setting. Everything worked together wonderfully to make sure I, the friendly trainer riding shotgun, and the friendly journalist riding in the back seat, did not end up on our roofs/in the tress/stranded Alive style in the woods.
At the heart of this Range Rover sits the 5.0L V8 engine which produces 375 hp and 375 lb-ft of torque. The engine sounds great and it is always a blast to mash the throttle in any vehicle but I quickly learned that throttle modulation and the proper gear choice are very important things off the asphalt. You need enough speed to climb the hill which is something the Rover does quite easily and amazingly, considering it would be a task to just try and walk up this hill. The key is having just enough speed to reach the top of the hill and come to a stop without introducing the Mr. Fender to Mr. Tree. Once you go up you also have to come down, and that is where Hill Descent Control comes into play. Hill Descent Control is now standard across the 2010 lineup and is a unique experience to say the least. I was told to simply point the vehicle straight down the hill and take my foot off both the gas and the brake. I did as I was told and the Range Rover brought us all safely down what was essentially a bunny hill in length but a black diamond in steepness. The system knows which wheels to apply brake pressure to individually to provide a safe descent of the hill. It was pretty amazing from behind the wheel, and equally amazing watching it from outside the vehicle as each wheel would brake independently to keep everything moving in the right direction.
After a few hours of playing in the snow, we headed to quaint Dorset Inn for lunch. Another New England classic, the Dorset Inn was established in 1796, yet the bacon cheeseburger I had is now a modern favorite not to mention the fries with the bourbon ketchup. This place also had an amazing list of beers available but that would have to wait for another trip. Lunch was soon over and it was back out to the line of British Snowmobiles disguised as SUVs waiting for another round of amaze-the-author.
It was time to switch vehicles so I decided to take a gander at the LR3. It was a 2009 model year vehicle that serves as the workhorse for the driving school and had already tacked on 15,000 miles, most of which have been off-road. We were the lead vehicle and we broke some serious trail heading deeper and deeper into the Vermont woods. The LR3 was behaving amazingly until we finally reach a point where we could go no further. The snow was heavy, wet, and everywhere…it had not stopped snowing since I had arrived the morning prior. We tried a few times to climb the hill, but we finally had to decide to turn around much to the dismay of all the instructors. Was I disappointed in them or the vehicles? Hell no! Making it as far as we did was quite astounding yet turning around when we did showed that they truly understand off-roading. If we pushed the vehicle harder, we could have made it over that hump but we might have ended up getting stuck in something worse down the road – amidst falling temperatures, deeper snow, fading light, and most importantly a weak cell phone signal. The disappointment was evident on the faces of all of the school workers but I’m still trying to wash the smile off of my own.
For more information on the Land Rover Experience, head here: Land Rover Experience.
For more information on the Equinox Resort, head here: Equinox Resort.
For more information on the Dorset Inn, head here: The Dorset Inn.