Less Traction, More Sideways at the Porsche Ice Experience 2019

MONT-TREMBLANT, QC – To quote rally legend Walter Röhrl, “The true art of car control is felt in an unstable way of driving.”

On a recent visit to the Porsche Ice Experience Canada, held on the very slick Mecaglisse facility near Mont-Tremblant, I was certainly doing my share of unstable driving. With the help of our group instructor (and Sebring winner) Kees Nierop, a small portion of it may have even been art.

Now into its ninth year, Porsche Ice Experience Canada (formerly Camp4 Canada) is going strong, running in 2019 through the month of February. Depending on your time and budget, there are three training levels on offer: the two-day Ice Intro ($5,495), three-day Ice Experience ($6,795), and three-day Ice Force ($7,995). Prices include overnight stays at the nearby Estérel Suites & Spa with fine dining provided. And of course, an all-star roster of instructors.

Also on the schedule are three one-day corporate programs. Porsche Ice Experience Canada can accommodate 440 participants, and at the time of this writing the season is pretty much sold out.

Mecaglisse, a sprawling frozen playground carved into the woods about two hours north of Montreal, consists of a large skid pad, two circuits, and three challenging handling courses. This year, Porsche Ice Experience Canada is running forty-two Porsche 911 (991.2 gen) Coupes that include the rear-drive 911T and Carrera 2S, and all-wheel-drive Carrera 4S, Turbo, and Turbo S – the latter two models reserved for Ice Force programs.

If communication is key to car control, then a tactile sports car is going to give you the most reliable feedback. All 911s here are equipped with studded Nokian snow tires. Good thing, ’cause without these we’d be going nowhere. You can barely stand on this surface.

There are two students per car, and instructors observe from the sidelines and coach through a two-way radio. Students are first schooled in the science and control of understeer and oversteer on the skid pad. Understeer, the most common failing of car control, occurs when you turn the wheel and the vehicle keeps going straight. When the back end tries to spin around, that’s oversteer. Or as master Röhrl puts it, “When you can see the tree you just hit, it’s understeer. When you hear it, it’s oversteer.”

On this one-day media event our groups partook in four exercises – slalom and skid pad in the all-wheel-drive C4S, and introduction to the Scandinavian rally-flick and several laps of the handling course in the more tail-happy C2S.

Now, I can count the number of events I’ve attended on one finger where it is mandatory to have the car’s stability control disabled and the instructor is yelling “More sideways!” through the radio.

“Less is more” is the mantra here. Once you kick the tail out (not hard to do in these arse-engined 911s), maintaining a drift requires small inputs, balancing the steering and throttle to keep momentum while the car is on the desired angle. When you get it right, it’s downright magical. When you don’t, out comes the big wooden spoon. No, not to beat us, but to dig the snow out of the Porsche’s front intakes. If you really stuff it into a snow bank, one of the support Cayenne SUVs (otherwise know as the “Cayennes of Shame”) will haul you out.

One day of instruction was great, but really just a tease. Dipping one’s toe into the art of car control in these ideal conditions with such exceptional hardware is equal parts thrilling, humbling, highly educational – and crazy fun. It’s all about repetition, getting the feel and committing it to muscle memory. Two days or more of this would really seal the deal.

It surely is the best time I’ve ever had at school.