Ice Dancing

Melding the splendor of a subarctic playground with the power and grace of exotic cars to choreograph an adrenaline rush hour
travel, automotive, lifestyle
Written By Randy S. Bolinger
Photography By Terry Duthu

Northern Sweden is about as peaceful, pristine and frigid as any place on earth. Its unique climate hosts such eclectic and intriguing manmade oddities and breathtaking natural wonders as an ice hotel and northern lights. In winter months, daylight is reclusive—appearing for a scant four hours each day. Temperatures are extreme and can reach minus 50 degrees Celsius. Frost clings to every exposed surface as if applied with a spray gun. Everything outdoors is in a seemingly perpetual state of suspended animation, literally frozen in time. And at times, the silence can be deafening, thanks to the sound absorption and insulating qualities of the snow that blankets the landscape.

Silent that is until the polar serenity of the predawn twilight is punctuated by the rasp of a 454-horsepower Ferrari V8. And that is because the quaint town of Arjeplog, in the Swedish Lapland, plays host to one of the most unique, and outright fun, precision-driving experiences in all of motoring—Lapland Ice Driving (Laponie in French).

Each year, ice-driving entrepreneurs Eric Gallardo and Christophe Bentinoglio, supported by an army of very warmly dressed local Swedes, convert the frozen surface of Lake Udjaur into a 1,200-acre/486-hectare motorsports complex of skid pads, ovals, large circles, technique circuits and world-famous racetrack recreations for the sole purpose of drifting specially prepared, high-performance automobiles on the ragged edge of exhilaration and acceleration where traction battles chaos for directional control of two tons of supercar.

Since no motorsports facility is complete without a pit area, there are also Wi-Fi-enabled heated chalets where ice drivers brief and debrief with instructors between driving sessions and catch up on what’s happening in the outside world over a cup of tea or espresso. But the diverse carousel of ice drivers doesn’t make the trek to Arjeplog to relax—they come to the Lapland Ice Driving experience for reasons that range from novices wishing to become more comfortable with the techniques needed to master winter driving conditions and adrenaline junkies searching for the next adventure, to auto racers bent on finding a competitive edge in the off-season.

On the Skids

In the United States, the expression “where the rubber meets the road” refers to the point in any endeavor when all planning ceases and execution begins. In the outer limits of ice driving, the proverbial rubber never actually meets the road. In fact, custom-made Lappie Winter Tyres are equipped with as many as 560 special ice studs painstakingly glued into place to lash the icy surface into submission during their limited lifespan (which is not much longer than that of a common mayfly).

Other special modifications are necessary to convert luxury and sports cars into perfect ice shredders. In fact, the very safety features such as traction control and anti-lock braking that auto manufacturers use Lake Udjaur’s icy conditions to perfect have to be disabled in order to give Lapland Ice Driving cars the freedom needed to dance around the ice like an Olympic figure skater. In addition to thwarting the car’s computer-controlled systems, Lapland Ice Driving vehicles sport other innovations like a big red console-mounted panic button (to kill the throttle if necessary), custom bumper and air dam guards to prevent damage from off-circuit excursions into hard-packed snow and ice, and of course, each vehicle is adorned with obligatory tow hooks fore and aft because it’s not a matter of “if” but rather “when” you lose the battle for sufficient traction.

In the outer limits of ice driving, the proverbial rubber never actually meets the road.

Lapland Ice Driving maintains a stable of more than 30 ice-ready thoroughbreds in a variety of configurations ranging from front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive to four-wheel drive and even four-wheel steering. During our visit to the garage we spotted the Subaru WRX; Audi RS4; Corvette Z06; Porsche 911, 991 GT3, 997 GT3 Salon, Boxster and Cayman S; and Lamborghini Gallardo. Each of the cars responds somewhat differently to steering, brake and throttle inputs on the ice based on their unique drivetrain, wheelbase and balance. Still, a few hot laps around the oval are usually all it takes to sort how a hot car will behave on ice.

Thanks to a special arrangement with Maserati, Lapland Ice Driving prepared a rear-wheel drive GranTurismo Sport and all-wheel drive Ghibli for ice driving—both of which have such throaty and crisp exhaust signature notes with stock plumbing that they will make any car aficionado weak in the knees. Fortunately, being weak in the knees has no effect on a performance car lover’s ability to stomp on the accelerator and put the pedal to the metal.

In hindsight, there was an interesting juxtaposition in pitching a highly refined (not to mention high-priced) piece of Italian motoring sculpture like the Maserati from side to side into corners around a circuit as if it were a purpose-built race car. However, I must admit that I had no qualms about bouncing the engine off the electronic rev limiter a couple times before stabbing the paddle shifter to upshift while circulating about the Silverstone circuit.

Silverstone on Ice

One of the things that makes Lapland Ice Driving so interesting and appealing for motorsports enthusiasts is the ability to drive on a recreation of some of the world’s finest racetracks. Thanks to legal agreements with the racetrack owners and clever use of the Global Positioning System, the Lapland Ice Driving team carefully constructs some of the world’s best known and technically challenging racetracks on ice. Famous circuits like Silverstone in the U.K. and the Nürburgring in Germany are laid out perfectly to scale, thereby providing drivers the opportunity to experience on ice what they may never be able to enjoy at the actual racetrack. The only differences between the ice tracks and their paved namesakes are that the ice tracks have no elevation changes and the safety margin for off-track deviations is huge with virtually zero risk (that and the subarctic temperatures if we’re being completely forthright).

Let's Get One Thing Straight

Lapland Ice Driving offers a variety of packages for drivers of any and all skill levels. And no matter what your background, you’ll leave the experience a more confident driver knowing that even when a car feels out of control, it can be wrangled in short order by applying the techniques that are fundamental to winter driving.

A typical ice-driving experience consists of two to three days of instruction that includes four solid hours of driving each day, broken up into eight 30-minute driving sessions, each followed by 30 minutes of debriefing and relaxation.

Usually the first day is spent on the skid pad and small ovals until a driver masters the techniques of performance braking, weight transfer, counter-steering and power sliding. Day two is spent chasing your tail on the large circle tracks where the challenge becomes getting a 4,145-pound/1,880-kilogram supercar into a power slide in fourth gear and drifting it around the circle using the throttle and counter-steering to control the car. At the end of day two or into day three, depending on mastery of the required techniques, a driver is introduced to one of the racetracks where the new skills of accelerating, braking, weight transfer, counter-steering and power sliding are put to the test.

Famous circuits like Silverstone in the U.K. and the Nürburgring in Germany are laid out perfectly to scale.

After that, it’s just a matter of repetition and experimentation to get a feel for traction, timing and how the car responds to control inputs. As confidence builds, even after a few spinouts, there is a realization of one key difference with Lapland Ice Driving—the extreme safety of the environment, the cars and the instructors.

Whether practicing on the ovals or screaming down the Silverstone straightaway at speeds in excess of 125 mph/201 kph, there is virtually no risk to life, limb or property on the frozen expanse of powder-covered lake. No obstructions, no tire walls, no Armco barriers, and no other cars to bump into. It’s just good, clean fun.

But the fun doesn’t end when the sun goes down, as it does very early in the day. Many of the cars are equipped with supplemental roof-mounted rally lights that illuminate the glistening winterscape like the surface of the moon. Eventually though, the driving does come to a close about 16:00. But that only means that the more social aspect of the experience is about to begin.

After Hours

Every culture, every group of enthusiasts, every circle of kindred-spirits has a name for it. Call it “hangar flying,” “bench racing,” “Monday morning quarterbacking,” whatever. But no matter what name you associate with it, we’re talking about “shooting the bull.” That wonderfully interpersonal aspect of talking, analyzing, bantering about the sport or activity you love with others who understand and appreciate it as much as you. And that is exactly what happens at the Tipi Lounge after returning to the hotel from adrenaline rush hour.

Lodging accommodations for Lapland Ice Driving adventurers are at the Hotell Silverhatten, an elegant four-star hotel situated above the city Arjeplog, creating an almost Alpine-like setting in the foothills of the Scandinavian mountain chain. Each night at 20:00 ice drivers, their friends and spouses gather in a private tepee-shaped lodge bulging out of the side of the Hotell Silverhatten. In the center of the wood-lined room is a circular fireplace providing the gravitational pull that attracts patrons to share a glass of champagne while discussing the nuances of coaxing sports cars and supercars through turns slideways.

People attend Lapland Ice Driving from all over the globe.

After a flute or two of bubbly to help forge new friendships over shared bucket-list experiences, the party migrates to the great dining hall overlooking the starlit town below. The Silverhatten chef prepares a nightly cornucopia of entrees that includes fresh fish and tantalizing local selections like reindeer, elk or moose. The fine dining atmosphere with the ice-driving group seated at a single table provides the opportunity for more intimate cross-table conversation (usually in a variety of languages).

People attend Lapland Ice Driving from all over the globe. But what everyone seems to have in common is an appreciation for the company of good people, a quest for adventure and a passion for performance driving. Caution—one trip to the Lapland Ice Driving experience usually leads to more due to the blend of sheer fun and good company. And some even plan and coordinate their annual pilgrimage to reunite with friends and rekindle relationships that originated while ice driving.

Gulfstream Arrivals

For a complete concierge booking service, Lapland Ice Driving maintains offices in France, Germany and the United Kingdom, staffed by native speakers at each location to assure the highest quality customer experience. Once you’ve booked your adventure, traveling to Arjeplog, Sweden, via Gulfstream includes a flight into the Arvidsjaur Airport (ICAO: ESNX). The 8,201-foot/2,500-meter paved runway is an easy target for any Gulfstream crew. However, the Arvidsjaur airport is not an airport of entry for customs, so an interim stop elsewhere in Sweden may be required. From Arvidsjaur, a shuttle prearranged by your Lapland Ice Driving concierge will transport you on the final leg to Arjeplog and the Hotell Silverhatten. Rental cars are available at the airport if you care to drive yourself from the FBO, or a rental can be arranged at the Silverhatten for transport between the hotel and ice-driving facility and to enjoy local dining, shopping and exploration in town.

But Wait, There's More

Many people bring their family on the trek to Swedish Lapland to share the thrills and chills of ice driving. But if your family’s enthusiasm wanes faster than your own, there are a host of other attractions available in Arjeplog that include dogsledding, moose safari, snowmobile tours, and, of course, a day spa and sauna are always a welcome break from the cold. For more information visit lapland-ice-driving.com. We assure you that ice driving in the Lapland of Sweden will be, without a doubt, the most fun experience you’ll have in a car on the ice—no stress, no risk, just heart-pounding fun because sliding sideways on the ice in this case means everything is going exactly according to plan.



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