Call it Seasonal Automobile Disorder (SAD). There’s no cure-all short of lots more sunshine and warmth, but there are distractions. Even though the temperature is below freezing and the roads are covered in rust-inducing salt, there is still plenty of fun to be had on four wheels.
Mercedes-AMG recently opened its second ice-driving school and playground, in the wilds of Gimli, Manitoba. (That’s Canada.) All SAD symptoms vanished the moment I opened up a 603-horsepower can of beefy Bavarian stew on frozen Lake Winnipeg; the AMG E63’s 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 rumbled like apocalyptic indigestion as we drifted around and around an icy circle. The rear-biased all-wheel drive system almost made it easy.
AMG’s expert instructors are on hand to help you find that sweet spot, where a car’s grip and power are balanced just-so for a perfect drift. It’s a sensation something like meditation and surprisingly serene.
Gimli may seem like an unlikely destination for AMG’s posh clientele, but it’s far closer than AMG’s only other winter driving academy, which is in northern Sweden. Besides, Gimli has a rich motorsport tradition, hosting ice-racing in winter and drag- and road-racing at an old airfield in summer. About an hour and a half north of Winnipeg, Gimli is perhaps best known for the annual Islendingadagurinn Festival—in which Icelandic expats dress up like Vikings and perform feats of strength—and the Gimli Glider incident. For the uninitiated, in July 1983 a heroic Air Canada pilot named Bob Pearson was flying a Boeing 767 at 35,000 feet when it ran out of fuel, and he somehow glided to an old runway in Gimli, saving all 69 souls aboard.
Drivers of all skill levels are welcome at AMG’s Winter Sporting experience. You’ll drive three different AMGs: the 603-hp E63 S, the 503-hp C63 S, and the 375-hp CLA45. If you happen to wedge any of them into a snowbank, no problem—it’s not your precious classic car, and there’s a G-Class on standby to tow you out and get you back on your merry way.
Ice-master Travis Toomey and his crew work day and night to maintain more than 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) of track on a 400-acre patch of frozen lake. In case you’re wondering, the ice is up to 150 centimeters (about five feet) thick—you could land a plane on it. Just be sure to bring a snow hat, as temperatures regularly drop to -20 Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit).
Throughout the entire two day AMG extravaganza, I didn’t feel SAD at all, and I’m ready to head back into winter driving with some good experience under my belt.
The Mercedes-AMG winter Driving Academy in Gimli takes place in January and February, in 12 waves. Prices include everything but airfare and range from $2995 (CDN) for the two-day program to $4495 for three days—or $5595 if you want a car all to yourself (that’s $2384, $3579, and $4375 USD, respectively). The school has sold out in its first two winters, so if you’re interested, plan ahead and book early.