Put Your Winter Driving Skillz To The Test

You, a Mercedes-Benz and a frozen lake—it’s a driving dream come true.

It’s about -15 Celsius and I’m standing on frozen Lake Winnipeg in Gimli, Manitoba. Primarily a summer destination, during which the population swells to 20,000, in the winter, a mere 5,800 or so people live in this rural municipality. So what brings me here in the dead of winter?

The Mercedes-Benz Winter Driving Experience, a winter sporting program with AMG Driving Academy. It’s one of only two locations in the world this Winter Sporting is held by Mercedes (the other is in Sweden) and it’s Gimli’s location on Lake Winnipeg (the 11th largest lake in the world) and frigid temps that make it an ideal location to perfect drifting and driving through snowy terrain. To run the Ice Track program, a minimum of 40 centimetres of ice is required, and when we land in Gimli, the lake is frozen to 105 centimetres. So we are all set to slide around unique tracks developed for this purpose and challenge ourselves with the wintery conditions; for a car lover, it’s an adrenaline-charged dream come true.

On our one-day experience with Mercedes-Benz, we start out driving the snow course and off-road course, where we drive Mercedes-Benz vehicles without studded tires. No studs means it’s slippery and the idea is to go at a low speed, which gave us a chance to put the 4matic all-wheel-drive system to the test, and also try the different suspension settings. I’m excited but a bit nervous so I decide to partner up rather than drive solo. The hills on the course are more nerve-wracking to take on than I realize (peering down and not being able to see what it feels like you’re dropping into can be scary!). Afterwards, driving through the snow is less exciting (growing up in Canada, it’s definitely something most of us are used to!). But we have a wide range of Mercedes-Benz vehicles to try out to get a feel for all of them: A-Class, C-Class, E-Class, CLA, GLA, GLB, GLC, GLE, GLS.

In the afternoon, we get onto the lake for the Ice Track. And I’m excited to try drifting on the lake; for one, the sheer fun of it, but also, I’m keen that it gives the opportunity to feel what sliding in the vehicle is like as it gives you the opportunity to gain some experience on how to recover if your car were to slide in a real-life situation, making you a more confident driver. I learn from our instructor that many people way too much throttle than they need to with the Electronic Stability Program (ESP) on once they turn it off. (ESP is a Mercedes-Benz system that takes info from sensors monitoring the rotation speed of each wheel to help stabilize the car during cornering, over or under steering or slipping).

We start by turning the ESP off so we can truly get a feel for how much throttle we should be using. I’m a bit anxious about trying the drifting—I really don’t want to end up in a snowbank—so I am tentative at the wheel and only once manage to pull off a successful drift for a few seconds. It’s truly a skill to be able to get on the brake enough so that the front tires dig in and and stay on the brakes just long enough so that the car pivots around the front ties to start the slide, then easing out of the throttle and moving onto setting yourself up for the next transition switch.

The time on the ice track passes much too quickly, and we wrap up our time on the lake by watching our instructors truly show us how drifting is done. The program is truly a unique and thrilling experience that car lovers obsess about, and it’s right here in Canada. Fun fact: the rural municipality of Gimli has the largest concentration of Icelanders outside of Iceland so you can explore a bit of Icelandic culture while you are here (do not miss out on visiting the town’s impressive 15-foot Viking statue!).

For more information on the Mercedes-Benz Winter Driving experience, visit AMG Driving Academy.

Karen Kwan

Karen Kwan

Karen Kwan is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in Flare, Elle Canada and ElleCanada.com, Glow, Metro, Huffington Post Canada, Travelife and Travel + Escape. She also runs her blog, HealthandSwellness.com, where she writes about health, beauty, fitness and lifestyle.

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