Porsche’s Ice Force Pro driving school graduates snow PhDs

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In the northern Finland town of Levi, no one can hear you scream. It’s not because the millions of snow-covered trees smother sound and not because notoriously laconic Finns will shush you into silence anywhere.

No one can hear you because the air is filled with the wide-open crank of Porsche flat-6 engines storming the Porsche Ice Force Pro driving academy. At the school, expert instructors teach the finer points of sliding $100,000 cars (or more) around a dozen icy rinks in subzero temperatures. The sound bounces off those trees, rattles the snow from their limbs, and turns otherwise glacial silence into trumpets of joy—three days’ worth of it.

The scream comes in part from Porsche raiding my vault of nightmares. I hate snow. I dread winter, even though according to popular DNA tests I’m at least 1% Finnish. But…sliding Porsches around? Ugh, okay, fine Finland, you win.

After being stranded in Helsinki overnight, I finally land in Kittilä and catch a ride to the track, pounding daytime cold meds and coffee just to achieve clarity. In a blizzard of activity, I sign papers and iPads, and red-jacketed, fur-collared instructors tell me the short version of drifting the easy way, via PowerPoint. Backpack in the 911’s frunk, seat belt buckled, I paddle the gearbox into Drive, and head off to learn how to drift away peacefully.

I hope.

porsche Ice Force Pro - 911 Carrera 4S

porsche Ice Force Pro – 911 Carrera 4S

Day one: 8:30 a.m., somewhere on the frozen Finnish tundra

It’s still dark outside and will be for a couple more hours when I strap into the first Porsche that I’ll voluntarily send into a spin, with the tacit permission of an Ice Force Pro instructor.

My instructor Jussi Kumpumäki hails from Uusikaupunki, where Porsche once had Boxsters built under contract. I say his name and hometown a few times; it proves how Americans miss out on really great musical names. Jussi has the patience to help me build a late-in-life drifting career.

No, it’s not some new national directive from our own Dr. Strangelove and his cabinet of malcontents. Ice Force Pro is the top level of a set of ice driving programs the company offers; Experience and Ice Force are for beginners and intermediates, while the next step into Porsche Ice Cup puts drivers into only race cars, and it requires Ice Force training to play. Housed in a few buildings near Levi, Finland, on 41 modules spread over 76 acres, the Ice Force academy comprises 144 cars, a staff of 30 that includes 13 instructors, and everything from reindeer dinners to videography, all for about $14,000, depending on the Euro exchange rate. It’s a full-service master class in how to keep customers thrilled with their Porsche by teaching them how to drive it properly.

Under a wan sky watercolored in tinctures of pale pink and aqua, I get a new grip on Motor Authority’s Best Car To Buy 2020, the 911 Carrera 4S, with 443 hp and an 8-speed dual-clutch gearbox. After I turn off the stability and traction control, put the PDK 8-speed dual-clutch transmission into manual mode, and crunch a patch of ice on the way to our first handling loop, it lets out its first “whoosh!” and we’re off. Within a few feet, it already feels otherworldly, like ice skating with your hands as well as your feet. 

Drifting in snow is a game of maximum patience and maximum impatience. While a car like the all-wheel-drive 911 wants to slip sometimes, it must be provoked. To navigate ice well, I have to unlearn some careful bad-weather habits. I have to kick the car into a spin to rotate around corners, mute my own anxiety while the pendulum action swings it back around in my favor. When it pauses, it’s time to reapply power, let it bite deeply into a corner, and power out.

porsche Ice Force Pro - 911 Carrera 4S

porsche Ice Force Pro – 911 Carrera 4S

I remember to look sideways to keep my eyes where I want to go—near a snow bank, not into one. I need to choose whether to use braking to provoke a slide, or to master the Finnish flick—the technique that has drivers go wide into a corner, then snap in steering to launch the car into rotation. Maybe there’s something to my 1% DNA, I think, because the Finnish flick is in my wheelhouse and I take smooth swipes at the wheel and the gas while thousands of snow-covered pines stand in silent judgement of my technique. 

It’s so not quiet inside the 911, with the chatter of walkie-talkies, the sound of the constant slushy grind of tires on snow and ice enters through the open sunroof (it keeps the windshield clear), and the squawks from the brakes when they freeze during pit pauses. It’s not enough to distract me from a few beautiful drifts I put together, really marvelous power slides around huge curves that looked almost professional.

We switch to a more difficult handling course, and I fiddle with the brakes to see if I can make those transitions even smoother. It’s a whole new sensation, when to squeeze the brake to rotate, when to counter steer, when to rev hard to push off the apex. 

Then the car slides too far, and I get a Helsinking feeling that my Finnish is not yet good enough to curse my stupid over correction. I plow into a big snowbank and helpers have to latch me on an orange bungee and pull me out with a Cayenne—then clean snow out from the air intakes with a wooden spoon. Over the course of three days I get stuck three times; as a group, on average, our drivers get stuck seven times each. 

Jussi says it’s all fine. Then he offers to take me for a ride to show me where to gain speed. He proceeds to hammer the shit out of the car in ways I am convinced will break something—maybe my spirit. He pitches the car so hard sideways into corners, for brief moments it becomes a front-engine, front-drive, rear-steer Porsche. He flicks the car casually, like a cigarette butt. 

It’s noon and what little sun we’ve had is done for the day when I decide I’m better doing the flick than the brake. I get into the swing of the 911’s rear end and resume sweet sweeps across the snow. Of course, I’ve probably only done what a Finnish teenager does on her way to school, but I feel like boundaries have been moved. 

The lessons stay learned when we switch to a new handling course, one with three wide, playable corners. I hang out the rear, defy all-wheel-drive’s intent and purpose, and pick out a solid rhythm that pulls corners together in something like harmony. Mind you, I haven’t turned on the music once in the car, and don’t in the more than six hours we drive on ice tracks, for a total of about 78 miles. Most drivers share a car with another student; over these three days we’re solo and at the end of the day everything aches.

We head to dinner at Tonttula, an elf village lit by strings of lights and the reflection off the unrelenting grey-white blanket of snow. Servers bring hot drinks and speak to each other in a language that sounds like corn popping. We eat some reindeer while their ungulate friends stare at us from the other side of the windows. It’s meta commentary on life, uncomfortable but delicious but then uncomfortable again, in a new way.

Then it dawns on me. This was training day. The 911s were training wheels. 

porsche Ice Force Pro - 911 GT3

porsche Ice Force Pro – 911 GT3

 

Day two: Same time, same darkness

Take off the 911’s front-end power and add more of it to the rear, and welcome to my day two as an Ice Force cadet.

For this round, the experts toss us into the 911 GT3. It’s the last-generation icon’s freak flag—and it flies thanks to a 4.0-liter flat-6 strapped with 500 horsepower and a 9,000-rpm redline. As the snake of white GT3s slithers over a bridge made of ice, the rear-engine and rear-drive GT3 starts to dance before there’s any music. 

It’s unnerving at first, but the GT3’s raw grip and power slowly get more comfortable after repeated laps, as I forget about the huge cushions of snow built around the track perimeter, as I try to forget yesterday’s lessons and instead tap brakes and gas and steer more intently to send the rear end into action. 

Graceful and controlled behind the GT3’s wheel, I spend the next hour blipping and needling and probing the throttle with quick braps of gas. Jussi says that’s the best way to provoke the GT3 into an angry slidey tirade against traction. He’s not wrong. The car feels so attuned to the ice that for a moment I think they’re gaming traction somehow. Maybe, I ask myself, but who optimizes for Finland?

His voice crackles over the talkie: “Try to poosh it a little, feel the car daaahnce on the long straight,” he urges. And I do. A pinkish light and a smear of orange lays on the trees and snow like melted Popsicles, while the fear of mushing someone else’s wheels subsides. The car glows the more it’s pressed. 

The sun staggers over the tops of the trees, like a teenager rummaging for food at noon over spring break, while Jussi calls us over to the next track. That’s where he throws in some timers. Now we get to show how much we’ve learned. Nothing like ratcheting up the pressure bit by bit. This frog is getting close to boiling. 

Now I’m strapped back into a 911 Carrera 4S on studded tires, and the switch from AWD to RWD to AWD again brightly illuminates more about the physics of high-speed, low-mu car control than any track talk ever could. It vividly demonstrates when to let the steering kick out the rear and when to throttle up to move power ahead. The pendulum motion of the GT3 doesn’t work here; a hammer foot seems to cure all. I drift lazily through woods, a forest king of the road, trying to catch the driver spaced a half-lap ahead while our river of red cars whips through shoulder high banks of snow. I’m a fan of sloppy AWD driving—let the car do all the hard work—but it’s obvious now why rear-wheel drive calls for a more attentive and more skilled driver. 

Porsche Ice Force Pro - Taycan Turbo S

Porsche Ice Force Pro – Taycan Turbo S

 

While the sun sets at—oh, is it 3:30 p.m. already?—we swap into Taycan Turbo S for a preview at what the ice drive of the future will be. A marvel that whirs with the programmed-in noise of all-electric driving, the Taycan Turbo S is less a handful than anything I drive above the Arctic Circle, period.

The $188,960 Taycan Turbo S sprints anywhere with jet-like urgency thanks to its dual motors and 2-speed transmission. It’s capable of accelerating to 60 mph in 2.6 seconds—but not on glare ice that grows dimmer by the minute as we line up for a slalom. But its all-in torque sent to all its wheels turns this kind of driving into simple fill-in-the-blank buckets of steering and throttle.

In Sport+, burbling low like a more menacing HAL9000, the Taycan simply wants to get sideways and stay there. Jussi shows us how to nag it into a highly irritated state and how to keep it there. To me, it’s the easiest stunt of the day: just blip the throttle through a slalom of cones and the Taycan cranks into a 180-degree slide, luridly and frequently. On the wide end-turn of the slalom, it’s elementary to rotate the wheel and peg the accelerator and let it crab around in precise marching band rhythm. It’s the ultimate power slide machine; I’m a professional drifter now and in this case it doesn’t mean sleeping in my car and performing hygiene at coffee shops, as I have done in the past. (Thanks, Katrina!)

After a few hilarious laps of Lapland Taycan-style, I cycle back into the Carrera 4S for a night-time run around a track we’re meant to stitch together in looping curls. I  embroider the surface of a white canvas with a fine red thread. The white mist has returned, and there’s no daylight left to illuminate the blood-red 911s, so I wait for longer gaps between cars before I exit the pit row. I haven’t seen a glimmer of the northern lights yet, but I do get a single beautiful star, a pinpoint against the dark to guide me. It’s just me and Venus, the goddess of beauty, turning powdery snow into a curtain of diamonds. 

porsche Ice Force Pro - 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport

porsche Ice Force Pro – 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport

Day three: Things get serious

Day three begins and I enter the garage to drink in my next whip, a 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport. It checks even Porsche-driver privilege at the door. Stripped down and strapped in with a safety cage, a single racing bucket, only a scrap or two of interior trim, and a six-point racing harness, the 2,910-pound Clubsport taps a 3.8-liter flat-6 for 425 hp and taps drivers for $179,140 in top Competition form.

We go to handling course one. “It’s like my home,” Jussi crackles over the walkie-talkie, “a proper Finnish rally course.” In the mid-engine, rear-drive Clubsport, I drift naturally on the first lap. It’s the most communicative car of the academy, like flying on a superhero cape, so natural are the transitions in and out of oversteer. One lap in and the cars are already more ass-out than the Tom of Finland booth at Helsinki Pride. I’m there for it; I’m already wearing a harness, after all.

The track’s perfect for hammering out traction patterns. Elevation changes force smoother transitions and require greater courage too, since the car needs momentum to glide up the hill without pushing into a snow bank. Off-camber passages, studded tires or no, the Clubsport wants to stay about a quarter rotated—something I rue when I come upon a stopped car in a blind turn and gently push into a snowdrift. Out come the Cayennes for one pull, and then a second as I hurry too soon into the next corner once I’m un-drifted. Out comes the wooden spoon to clear out the air intakes, twice. Out comes the deep shame. What would my ancestors think?

Yeah I don’t know if you know this, I speak to them toward the sky, but it’s a sheet of ice out here.

From there, the Cayennes stay out of my space, and I stay out of theirs. I cycle around and admire the scenery while I wag the Clubsport around corners for the photographers, intoxicated by the whiff of fuel and the thrumming of the flat-6, but worn down gradually by the high steering axis, the narrow racing buckets, and the sheer repetition. After three hours in the Clubsport, I grow blurry and unfocused. A few more pointed pirouettes around the better corners and I make the hand-slice motion across my neck. I’m done. My hands are dry and flaking, my neck aches, and coffee’s waiting on me. I find a semi-graceful way to slip out of the car’s roll cage, and peel my sweaty jacket off my back.

Porsche Ice Force Pro, Jussi Kumpumaki

Porsche Ice Force Pro, Jussi Kumpumaki

Darkness blots out everything except the lights on the final 911 I’ll drive, a silky-brown weasel of a sports car that wants to run through the pitch-black harder than I have left in me. I’ve rearranged my mind a few times already to accommodate the different cars and different configurations, and it’s all started to blur around the edges.

I soldier out for my final laps anyway, with a blast of cold air from the vents pointed at my face. I battle back-and-forth around corners through a more technical handling track that allows 70 mph or more on its straights before tight curves set up drama under the wheels. Cars don’t have mood swings, but the ice and fresh snow have teamed up to induce something just like that. The windshield fills with glitter dust kicked up by a wheel gone wide left here, wide right there. Even quick and short laps create their own white-outs. And even though Venus has come back to watch over it all, I decide I’ve had plenty of time skating around Finland’s own Porsche-branded ice rink. 

I’ve learned a lot in an action-packed three days. My tolerance for skittering on the edge of traction has gone sky-high. I’m more progressive and intentional at the helm of a superhero-powered rear-driver. I’m less sloppy. Thanks to Jussi and all the Porsche ice-driving instructors, I even feel more Finnish, like maybe 2%. Next time maybe I can nudge that to three.

But who knows when or if I’ll ever come back or when I’ll enduro-drift again. Remember, I don’t like winter. Snow for me is like having sex with an ex: “Really, it was great to see you again, I’m happy we got together, and wow did I forget either one of us could really do all that—but just so we’re clear, this is not gonna happen again.” 

“Probably.” 

Porsche paid for all travel expenses and for extensive driver training so Internet Brands Automotive could bring you this firsthand story.

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