All too often in life there’s a gap between expectation and reality. Not with driving on ice. The expectation is tantalising, but the reality is demanding, exhilarating, and so much fun you’re surprised it’s legal.
I’ve been doing it for 13 years, taking groups of around 15 on an annual trip to Sweden. Every single time it’s an absolute joy to witness the hilarity, thrills and sense of satisfaction that our guests enjoy in just three days.
We start each visit with a little bit of theory for the technically minded — though nothing really prepares you for driving on a frozen lake. The fundamental skill to master is how to manage the gap between you telling the car to do something and it actually happening. On ice, every action results in wild, lurid reaction. Our groups learn on three different circuits that gradually increase in difficulty. On days one and two, we drive on wide open areas of ice, bordered with snow banks. It doesn’t matter if you spin.
You’re not aiming for perfection, but beginning to feel the car respond to your demands, and find a grip on the icy floor. When you get it wrong — well, that’s when the snow banks, your passenger and a pair of shovels come in handy.
Next, a slalom course gives you the chance to learn to finely adjust the throttle and steering; doing it the right way keeps the sliding under control, so that with just a slight correction you can bring the car back into a straight line and be ready for the next cone. Then come 180-degree turns, building up both patience and skill in judging your vehicle’s level of grip before hitting the accelerator to power out of the bend.
Front-wheel-drive, rear-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive vehicles are all on our books (well, in our garage), each of them lightly adapted to the snow and ice, and each with very different responses. Take your foot off the pedal in a bend with a front-wheel-drive car, and you’ll spin. Put it on too hard with rear-wheel-drive and you’ll career off course — while a four-wheel drive is as near to ‘point and shoot’ as you can get. But finally, after two days of honing skills, our trip culminates in letting the group loose in a rally car — Jeremy Clarkson style. Replete with spikes and adapted suspension, drivers can put the pedal to the metal and let rip.
I know many folks who fling themselves off cliffs hanging by a rope, hurtle down a zipwire or take on a black run to get their adrenalin kicks. Ice-driving gives you multiple thrills with negligible risk, and leaves you with impressive new skills. Driving on tarmac, whatever the conditions when you get home, could end up seeming just a bit too easy.