Dancing on ice

We head to the picturesque winter wonderland that is Swedish Lapland for an unforgettable time spent driving on one of the region’s enormous frozen lakes

As we begin our descent into the modest airport located just outside the small town of Arvidsjaur in northern Sweden, I gaze out of the window and admire the vast, wintry landscape. On one of the region’s many frozen lakes, I spot the piercing headlights of several cars as they slalom across a white expanse – exactly what I’ll be doing for next few days, as part of the Audi Ice Experience. We’re greeted at the airport by our instructor, Jerry Åhlin. A former rally driver, he has worked on Audi events such as this for more than two decades. We make the short trip to our hotel – a traditional-style Swedish house built in the 17th century, for a briefing and dinner before turning in, ahead of our first day spent tackling the lake.

Scandinavia’s short winter days mean it’s still dark as we set off. Our convoy of Misano Red S4 Avants winds along the frozen roads with ease, thanks to a combination of studded winter tyres and quattro all-wheel-drive. I’m surprised and comforted by how much grip the car can muster on the treacherous surface, especially when the temperature display is reading -12C.

On arrival at the lake, we make our way to a large oval track, where we’ll learn the basic principles of ice driving, passing along the way a warning sign that bears the message ‘quattro only’ – well, it’s good to know I’m in the right car for the job…

After a few laps of the oval, Jerry’s advice begins to sink in. The key to driving well on ice is to use the car’s weight to encourage it to turn in. The first method we’re taught is to lift off the accelerator or brake on the way into the corner, shifting the weight onto the front wheels and getting the rear to swing round. After getting used to sliding, we’re then told to try the rally-driving technique known as a Scandinavian flick. Made famous by the region’s rally heroes in the 1960s, it involves sharply flicking the car towards the outside of the corner before turning in, further enhancing the weight transfer and pendulum effect.

Satisfied we’re getting the hang of it, Jerry directs us onto one of the twisting circuits, which are a far trickier proposition than the spacious oval. As day one wears on, each driver drifts further and further sideways – and, from time to time, one of the cars finds itself perched precariously on top of the snow bank that lines the track.

After a long day spent learning the rudiments of ice driving, we head back to the hotel for a snowmobile tour, during which we traverse frozen lakes and travel through magical, snowy forests. En route, our earlier efforts are rewarded with a delicious dinner of Arctic char (a cold-water fish closely related to salmon and trout), cured reindeer and roasted moose. Back at our hotel, we enjoy a nightcap at an igloo bar – an apposite way to conclude a remarkable day.

Words by James Clark. Photographs by Greg Pajo