Auto enthusiast Martin Lewicki feels the luxurious rush of ice driving in the land of dense frozen forests, the northern lights, and the midnight sun. Read the article here and in the current issue of Quest Magazine.
Sweden is so much more than the home of ABBA and IKEA. With near perfect cold-weather sporting conditions, it is also a winter paradise for the modern adventurer. I am not referring to the intrepid skiers who swoop briskly through powdery blankets of snow so near to the Arctic Circle. Or the avid sport fishermen who plunge through cold waters to catch the 37 species of pike, salmon, perch and more that populate Swedish Lapland’s four untamed mountain rivers, plentiful forest rivers and crystalline moun- tain lakes. I’m talking of adventure worthy of Fleming’s Bond—yes, James Bond—in fast, expensive cars, whizzing over ice.
Each year from January to March, a little town in the far north of Sweden plays host to the unique automotive spectacle of Lapland Ice Driving. Adrenaline addicts with gasoline in their blood can drift on a frozen lake in Porsches, Maseratis or Lambo- rghinis until they get dizzy. Safe, with virtually zero risk—ice driving is literally rally racing at top speed on a frozen lake in the company of world-class drivers. With its clear, fresh air and awe-inspiring natural landscape, Scandinavia is the ideal place to experience this sporting event.
Each day there are four hours of intensive instruction. On Day 1, I am dressed warmly—sitting in a brand new white $150,000 Maserati Gran Turismo. I find myself in the middle of a frozen lake in Arjeplog, only 50 miles away from the Arctic Circle. All I see for miles all around me is a seemingly endless, completely captivating, flat and white frozen land- scape. Still, this isn’t the moment to contemplate nature. I turn the igni- tion key and the Italian V8 engine roars at me angrily, ready for action. Next to me is Hervé, an experienced French racing driver and my capable instructor. Clearly, he has nerves of steel and a stomach like lead—and talent-free, wannabe racers seem to leave him unimpressed.
First, we head to the oval training track. To maneuver around this track, the Maserati accelerates in a straight line and then follows the curve of the oval in a controlled drift. This is easier said than done. According to Hervé’s instructions (which I follow to the letter), you want to give the car a short-but-determined steering impulse in the direction you want to go, so the tail breaks outward. Then you counter- steer quickly and keep steady, giving it just the right amount of gas until you leave the curve. The most important rule—always keep your eyes on where you want the vehicle to go. As simple as it sounds, it is not.
During the morning drive, I end up lodged in the snow three times and need to be pulled out by a recovery vehicle. There are also countless spins, sometimes too much gas or too little gas, sometimes counter- steering too fast and then too slow and, of course, always looking for- ward—which is intuitively wrong— rather than inside the curve. I do not understand how Hervé’s stomach can stand being jolted and spun like this by amateur drivers on a regular basis. Luckily, he tells me this is the norm for him, pointing to another guest, who even as an experienced “drifter,” has to be recovered from the snow five times. This gives me hope.
Am I wearing the wrong shoes? Maybe the sunglasses help? Or is the car just too strong? Naturally, I go through a list of excuses as to why I could not accomplish a perfect drift. Only at the end of the first day do I have the feeling that the Maserati is finally doing what I want. It’s a humbling and invigorat- ing shared experience. Those who go on the ice for the first time, initially, have to learn to control the car properly and, ultimately, to keep a $150,000 Maserati in a cool, continuous drift. After an exciting and informative day, I exchange perilous, thrilling experiences with other guests over champagne. Even as I am falling asleep later in my cozy hotel room, I still have the melody of the hammering Maserati V8 in my ear.
It is often said a good night’s sleep can greatly improve your memory. Indeed, on Day 2, I admit a kind of small miracle has happened because, somehow, I have internalized everything that I learned the day before.
My second vehicle is the brand new Maserati Ghibli III, a sports sedan with all-wheel drive. Achieving drift is slightly different with all-wheel drive cars than with rear-wheel drive, but I am doing everything right. Ready for the next level, I now trust myself enough to go on one of the big circuits for the first time. Replicas modeled after legendary endurance racing courses, these private tracks are shoveled free of snow on the ice lake. With a choice of the Formula One British Silverstone, the French Le Castellet or the Ger- man Nürburgring, I opt for the French course. On the long straights, I achieve 120 mph with studded tires. Then I slow down, drift and go further. It’s mind-blowing. I am finally beginning to understand the fascination with this crazy kind of driving so much, I enjoy it.
Confident in the Maserati Ghibli, I graduate to the 2014 Porsche 911 GT3 on the training track. It’s a brilliant sports car, as precise as a Swiss watch. After a few practice laps on the oval, I dare to take it on the circuit. This time, it’s the little Nürburgring course. With its many hairpins and nar- row curves, it is ideal for the handy Porsche—and tons of fun. I ask my second instructor, ex-rally driver Vincent, to take a lap around the track to show me how a professional does it. Vincent has never driven the new Porsche GT3, but it only takes him a few corners to get a feeling for the car.
It feels like being on the most terrific roller coaster ride; you know that somehow you will survive, and yet you fear when the car is heading around a curve at 100 mph on ice. This is pure adrenaline.
The more you dive into the ice driving experience, the more rewarding it is. Seventy-five percent of all guests who par- take in this high-flying sport return and bring their friends, making the pilgrimage in the brief season from January to March, when the ice over the lake reaches an immense 37 inches.
In the first season in 2006, only eight adventure-hungry car enthusiasts journeyed here, sharing one mid-class vehicle. Eric Gallardo, former top test driver for General Motors’ European branch and French GT4 Vice Champion, launched Lapland Ice Driving, which now has the largest area of its kind dedicated to this activity. Nine years later, more than 350 guests flock to the area each season with the need for speed, have their pick of 30 exclusive sports cars and take them to the limit on multiple racetracks.
A unique thrill, ice driving is the heart of Arjeplog and provides the pulse for this charming 2,000-person town in the Swedish province of Lapland. The idyllic place mutates in winter, becoming the test laboratory of international automotive manufacturers and suppliers. The popular Hotel Silverhatten, where most of the international competitors stay, is full of car talk. As a participant in the Lapland Driv- ing Experience, a guest can join this exclusive club, soaking up the electric atmosphere. Luckily, there is also the option of a welcome time-out at the hotel’s traditional Swedish spa to soothe sore muscles and end the day quietly.
I also make sure to take in the breathtaking topography via two experiences not to be missed in Arjeplog. I wind down from ice driving with a ride in a snowmobile. As it is pos- sible to get stuck in the snow with the 350-pound vehicle, I am thankful that the young and strong Swedish instructors from Experience Arjeplog are always nearby to help free the mobile from the snow. After my immersion with lean, mean machines, it’s nice to get back to basics. For those who like things more traditional, I recommend a husky tour through the picturesque winter landscape. Or take to the area ski slopes and—if you have an extra day—you can even manage a road trip to Norway’s fjords. Overall, these are perfect conditions for an unforgettable stay.
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