Winter beater, schminter schmeater. The best cold-weather car for a Porsche 911 owner, it turns out, is a Porsche 911. I near this realization while careening a 370-horsepower Carrera T though a completely frozen track on Quebec’s Mecaglisse Circuit. It’ll take me a few more tries to get the drift of it (wink, wink), but ultimately, the German automaker is out to prove that fast cars and harsh climes can indeed coexist. That’s the idea behind the Porsche Ice Experience (formerly called “Porsche Camp4”), which puts attendees through a series of winter driving challenges on a surface that can barely be walked on.
Porsche began this program in Finland in the mid-’90s, coinciding with the launch of its all-wheel drive Carrera 911 4. Guests were invited to learn how to drift and escape a skid while driving a fleet of brand-new Porsches. Turns out countersteering exercises are enormous fun. The program went so swimmingly it was expanded to Italy, Switzerland, China, and Canada.
Here at Mecaglisse — about two hours north of Montreal — giant mountains surround a track covered in snow and ice. Apparently, the track is flooded with water every night to ensure it’s slippery enough. The cars we’re given to drive are no winter-ready SUVs either — they’re whips teenage boys mount posters of on their bedroom walls: brand-new 2019 Carrera 4S and Carrera T models outfitted with 1.5-millimetre studded winter tires. The program is offered at three levels of increasing difficulty: Ice Experience, Ice Force, and Ice Force Pro. Today, I’m taking an abridged version of the Ice Experience.
I’m not the most proficient winter motorist. I spun out on the 401 once and ugly cried for a good five seconds before realizing there was no traffic behind me and I wasn’t going die. So, you know, I had some jitters going into this thing.
Fortunately, Porsche’s talented fleet of instructors inspires some confidence. Among the team are Porsche factory driver and 12 Hours of Sebring winner Kees Nierop and Kart racing champ Ben Cooper. We’re taught some basics: weight transfer, understeer and oversteer, and “don’t do anything dumb or we won’t tow you out of the snowbank.” Cool, cool.
We begin with a large skid pad designed to teach us how to avoid understeer. Basically, once you feel the nose pushing wide, you’ve got to get off the throttle, which sends the weight forward, back to your front wheels. The polar opposite of this, so to speak, is oversteer — you’ve turned way too much, and the rear end is swerving too far out. At this point, you want to steer in the opposite direction that you’re currently heading.
Do I master this portion of the exercise? Not quite. In any case, doing donuts on a sheet of ice in a Porsche 911 is a considerable thrill. At one point, I Quebec Drift my way through the skid pad — or at least it feels like I do. We’re told the secret to drifting on snow in a Porsche is not constantly steering — in fact, it’s hardly steering at all. So advanced are the stability control systems in these machines that drifting is left all to throttle modulation.
At another point, we tackle a slalom course designed to help drivers understand side-to-side vehicle dynamics. Here it’s all about transferring weight forwards, so the car can rotate smoothly through the turn. When approaching a turn, I’m told to lift off the throttle, turn the wheel, and hit the brakes. Do I crush a few pylons? Absolutely. But after a couple tries, and some careful coaching over my walkie-talkie, I’m slithering through turns like I’m motherfucking Batman. (I’m pretty sure he takes the Batmobile on ice at some point during Batman & Robin.) [Editor’s note: He does, or some version of it, anyhow.]
The grand finale of the day is an open course — essentially, an adult version of one of the snow levels in Mario Kart. Here we’re able to put everything we’ve learned into practice. There are some hills and hairpins and some instructors pumping you up trackside. It’s exhilarating. A couple drivers pirouette into snowbanks, and I can proudly say I wasn’t one of them. Maybe I actually learned something today! Or maybe the truth is you’ve got to try pretty damn hard to spin-out a 911. (Although turning off the stability management will get you there faster). Say what you will about how unparalleled your favourite Italian supercar is on a racetrack — perhaps the true test of a machine is how it performs in the most treacherous of conditions.
And the true test of a driver is whether he can steer out of a skid without shedding a tear.