Truth is told, the average Brit can’t really handle a bit of snow. If you can even dig your car out of the drive, chances are the roads haven’t been gritted properly as the council didn’t bother to check the weather forecast.
You must wonder what the likes of, say, 1967 Monte Carlo Rally winner Rauno Aaltonen must make of it all. Here’s a man who piloted his original Mini to victory in the famous snowy mountains above the Principality, beating allcomers and, of course, the conditions.
A recent excursion to Austria to drive the new Mini Countryman JCW involved some time ‘experiencing the brand’, in other words driving a convoy of Countrymans through the Alps with Rauno - the original ‘Flying Finn’ - leading the way in an original-shape Mini.
The scenery was good and all, but even more impressive while sitting next to Rauno in a ‘real’ Mini. The well-maintained mid-1990s 1275cc Mini he was entrusted with looking after belonged to an employee in the BMW logistics department, so he promised to go easy on it.
Not so. I sat next to Rauno while he hurled it down the mountain road, opening up and breaking traction at any opportunity with a booming smile on his face. Rauno described driving the car as “like dancing with a light-footed girl”; an analogy I don’t think could be applied to the following Countrymans.
So, this being the cold season, it was a good chance to find out how Rauno suggests us Brits cope with the snowfall.
Although this one didn’t come from his mouth, it seems you should drive everywhere in second gear and at least 60mph, no matter how narrow the road. When questioned whether this may be a bit too fast, Rauno suggested at least 100mph should be possible if he thought those behind would be able to keep up with him.
More usefully, you should grip the wheel with your thumbs in the quarter to three position and steer with your arms. That way, says Rauno, you get the best feel for the road. And if the car doesn’t respond to your inputs due to a lack of grip, “keep turning it until it does”.
Conversation soon turned to whether Rauno preferred the simplicity of the Minis of his day or today’s more complicated models. “It’s 50/50,” he says, “I chose to embrace the electronic age of the car in the early 1980s so I could communicate better with my race engineers.” Rauno has been a fan of gadgets and technology ever since – he’s now into Skype, but not really Facebook. “People don’t need to know when I’m in the bath,” he says.
Should the worst come to the worst and you break down in the cold weather, Rauno proved to be quite the agony uncle for tips on keeping warm. He recommends a hat similar to his – a 350 euro bundle of warmth made from wild Russian dog – although a cheaper 80 euro one made from rabbit will also do the trick. He doesn’t like scarves as they can freeze onto your face, and lots of thin layers are better than one big coat.
And should you be stuck with an idea for a winter holiday, Rauno can help here, too. Even at 73, he’s a regular on snowmobile tours with his mates a few hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle – where temperatures often reach as low as minus 40.
For all this, you’d think he’d be used to the cold. “Not so,” he says. “My house does have central heating, you know…”