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Life lessons from driving on ice in Finland

The Audi Ice Drive experience in Finland’s scenic Muonio region is a lesson in steering as well as in handling sticky situations

The Audi Ice Drive experience in Finland was about learning how to control the car when the road conditions are rough.

By Renuka Kirpalani

LAST PUBLISHED 15.03.2024  |  06:00 AM IST

It is 8:45 am, and a pitch-black morning with a sea of white in stark contrast. I am driving towards a frozen lake 200km into the Arctic Circle in Muonio, Finland. The car is covered in snow, flying off the road after a fresh fall the night before, and icicles hang from the lower half of the vehicle. It’s -19 degrees Celsius, but I don’t feel the cold. It is not just because the Audi RS 4 Avant heater is keeping warm. I am all charged up for the Audi Ice Drive experience, a guided drive hosted by the German luxury carmaker. Around 800 people in batches of 20 get to do this every year, and the good news is you don’t have to be a journalist like me. All Audi owners can do it.

The sun comes up late in this part of the world. As we reach the frozen lake by 9:30am, it is just rising. I cannot contain my excitement for what lies ahead. The Audi Ice Drive is about teaching you to control the car instead of letting it control you when the conditions are rough. I was certain the experience would help me improve my driving skills. What I wasn’t expecting were the life learnings along the way.

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The programme begins with instructors demonstrating the importance of gentle steering inputs, and how to feather the throttle and shift the car’s balance smartly to ensure the car stays on course instead of being wedged into a snowbank. It didn’t seem too difficult. But once I was behind the wheel, I realised it was a lot harder than it sounded.

I had to reset the instincts that drive me to turn the steering full into a tight corner. Doing that sends the car into a massive under-steer slide, landing me in the snowy banks of the track carved out on the lake. Too much gas and you swing right around; too little, and you keep sliding. It takes a few excursions into the banks and spinning right around to get the correct balance. The art is to be gentle with all steering inputs—to gently shift the car’s weight balance and drift around a corner. It’s about learning to play with the steering and feathering the throttle just enough to drift around the corner.

“Never lock the steering, assuming it will turn the car more in your desired direction; learn to unwind, and you will get back on track", the instructor said. It worked brilliantly, and instantly, I drove much better.

Estate cars have never really caught on in India, but this car is a hoot to drive. It is a delightful mix of performance and handling.

Lessons learnt

By midday, the sun is overhead but the weather app tells me it is -23 degrees Celsius. I am still warm from the adrenaline rush of the drive. As I step out for a quick lunch, I ponder on what the instructor said. When in a bind, unwind. If life throws you a curve, unwind to get back on track. It is a lesson for life as well.

After the meal, we head back to the lake. This time, it’s a long, snaky course full of twists and turns.

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Armed with the hard lessons learnt earlier, I head out. We are told to build up speed slowly, which I do. I start getting the hang of it around corners—slow turn in, patiently wait for the tail to start coming out, on the gas, as you feel the tail swing out further, unwind the steering, then a little bit of gas again, and so it goes till you find the balance of throttle and steering that lets you dance around corners. The nose of the car is diving in, the tail swinging out and drifting around. I am gliding through the course, linking corners like an ice skater doing a routine; I feel like a superhuman.

In this environment, one can play around and test one’s limits without the fear of damaging the car, which is why it’s easy to go full tilt. But soon, I am reminded that I am human when my overconfidence lands me in the snow bank.

As I wait for help, I ponder on another set of life lessons: don’t rush into things; patience pays.

As we build up to driving over longer courses the next two days, we are taught not to look at the corner just ahead of us. We need to look further at the next one and in the distance to where you want to go. This will help turn the steering in the direction the car should be going. Life lesson No.3: Being short-sighted doesn’t help. Look ahead. We need to see the larger picture.

The programme builds your car control. The Audi Ice Drive experience not only lets you have bucket loads of fun behind the wheel but gives a full northern hemisphere experience that includes a snowmobile ride at night through forests and icy terrain, culminating in a nice warm cabin that serves up delicious home-cooked local cuisine. And if you’re lucky as I was, you get to witness the surreal Northern Lights.

On the final day, the programme winds up with a friendly match of timed laps within the group. While my instinct was to drive fast for a win, it led to many mistakes. Another lesson: slow and steady wins the race.

While bettering my driving skills, the Finland experience also gave me life skills. The joy of being able to reign in the car and the sheer delight of pirouetting around on ice is an indescribable adrenalin high. It’s one for the bucket list.

Renuka Kirpalani is consulting editor, Autocar India.

Also read: Chasing the Northern Lights in Finland