By Anne Archer
Sitting in a comfortable leather seat, surrounded by two-zone climate control, tree trunks are merely inches away from the Land Rover’s rearview mirror.
Suddenly, the already tight off-road trail becomes tighter as several two-foot deep potholes buried underneath mud or ice – or both – come in to view.
For the last 20 years, the Land Rover Experience Center in Manchester, Vt., has been demonstrating the capabilities of luxurious, current model year Land Rovers on their 80-acre off-road driving course and in the Green Mountains on class four roads.
“It’s the most fun you’ll have at two miles per hour,” says David Nunn, location manager and professional overland driver at Land Rover Experience Center.
With only four of these adventure experiences in North America, drivers are given a unique opportunity to learn how to maneuver a luxury brand four-wheel drive vehicle with incomparable off-road functions through extremely narrow passages, steep ascents and major descents.
The drive begins on an uneven trail that appears manageable. However, things become interesting rather quickly as the Land Rover slowly turns in to an impressive side tilt. The most amazing part of this level to sideways transition is how rapidly yet slowly — because you’re only going two miles an hour — it happens. The smoothness of the ride, even with a tire or two lifted off the ground, barely jostles the driver or the passengers.
After the side tilt is conquered, another obstacle appears: a major ascent. The trail is now pointed toward the treetops and entrenched in bottomless ruts. “Stay in the ruts,” Nunn advises as the vehicle, which can drive through up to 35 inches of water, climbs its way to the apex.
Once the ascent is completed, the reward is a descent so steep that when perched atop the decline, the road seems to disappear underneath the front tires. “Use hill descent control,” Nunn says as the Land Rover eases to the bottom of the road. But that’s not the end of the adventure. With roughly five miles of trails, drivers get to do it again — this time on a different part of the course.
If this sounds fun, you’re right.
If you feel this might test your skill level and your comfort level, you’re right again.
According to Nunn, before getting behind the wheel drivers are informed they will feel tested but they will be taught appropriate driving technique as well as the proper way to use the vehicle’s technology. Armed with this knowledge, drivers have a better understanding of their limitations and the vehicle’s limitations, thus enabling them to find the courage to push themselves.
However, no one becomes an expert off-road driver overnight. With constantly evolving driving conditions, due to changing seasons and variable weather, Nunn emphasizes that in order to understand how to handle different road conditions, a driver must experience the drive, instead of being told how to drive. In other words, hands-on experience will make it easier to recognize mistakes and figure out how to correct them.
And while mistakes do happen, there is no need to worry.
“Land Rovers never get stuck. They get ‘momentum-ly’ challenged. When that happens, we execute recovery,” Nunn says with a smile.
Although some people may want to drive haphazardly through the woods, that is not Land Rover’s practice. The goal of off-road driving is not to tear up the environment or the vehicle but rather to learn and utilize the vehicle’s capabilities while being environmentally respectful.
With this in mind, Land Rover follows a strict tread lightly policy derived from the nonprofit organization Tread Lightly!, a group in which Land Rover was a founding contributor. Tread Lightly! encourages people to enjoy the outdoors responsibly while being good stewards of the land.
The professional drivers at Land Rover Experience Center understand not everyone knows “gravity works” as Nunn says, while others, who know how to make a line choice, are looking for a challenge. So, the Experience Center offers a variety of driving packages, all of which can be customized to fit the needs of individuals or groups.
Options range from a 25-minute ride on the course with a professional driver explaining techniques and capabilities, to a six-hour, behind-the-wheel adventure where the driver learns what the luxury vehicle can really do.
As Nunn points out, everything taught during an off-road driving adventure is transferable to on-road driving. So, even if you and your vehicle don’t see a lot of backroads, it wouldn’t hurt to learn its pivot point or to respect your peripheral vision limitations — if for no other reason than to stop hitting the curb when pulling out of the grocery store parking lot.
The details …
Land Rover Experience Center
80 Union St., Manchester, Vt.
What: Land Rover driving experience on off-road course, mountain trails, class 4 public access roads
When: Open year-round
Cost: 25-minute adventure ride $25, 1-hour off-road experience $275, 2-hour lessons $425, half-day adventure $650, 6-hour full day adventure $1,200
Tip: If you’re prone to motion sickness, take a Dramamine before your adventure.
More info: 802-362-0687 or lrevt.com
Anne Archer lives in Manchester, Vt. She is a regular contributor to the Manchester Journal.