003 - Ice Driving In Norway

In 2018 I was asked by friends who run Ice Driver in Norway, if I would visit them and take some photos for their website & social media. As a huge car and motorsport fan this was something I couldn’t turn down. So, February 2018 I ventured out to see them at their base at Dagali Airport near Geilo.

But what is “IceDriver” you ask… Well there are some important ingredients needed to make Europe’s Premier Ice Driving Experience possible. This is a recipe perfected by Andy & Alison McKenna (who happen to be two of the nicest people you are likely to meet) over the last 10 years and it’s a house speciality...

You need...

A frozen lake in the incredible Norwegian winter wonderland of Geilo

A selection of carefully planned and prepared tracks carved into the snow and ice

A fleet of professionally prepared cars, BMW’s (Including a 3 series compact with a tuned M3 engine fitted.. yes, I did say an M3 engine!!) a Ford Focus GpN rally car and a classic Porsche 911

A twist to the tyre selection, a special ingredient added by Andy to spice the dish

A team of highly professional and talented instructors, with the main goal of getting the best out of you to make your ice driving experience memorable and rewarding

A support crew of amazingness A selection of fantastic soups for lunch and hot drinks on tap (well in a flask)

A large dose of fun

The end result of this icy cocktail is a driving experience like no other. While on the ice the team of instructors will gradually push you on as you start to get a feel for the cars and the ice leaving you feeling like a driving god, or goddess with the cars feeling like they are floating underneath you. A catchphrase that sticks is "fast hands, light feet" you need both.

You will come away from it having learnt a new skill, which will boost both your abilities and your confidence when the driving conditions take a turn for the worse, trust me on this I have used what I’ve learnt more than once!

But onto the adventure…

On arrival at Oslo airport, you jump on the train to the main terminal. Now here you`ll find a great selection of places to eat and even a bag drop so you can explore the city if you have a wait for your train to the Ice Driver hotel. The train journey takes you thru some amazing scenery, if you have a book with you then you will likely still be on the same page when you arrive at the Geilo station as you will spend the journey looking out the window. It truly is a winter wonderland here. The hotel has a shuttlebus to collect you.

The hotel is pretty damn special, it’s at a ski resort so 90% of the people there are out for some winter fun, tho most as just going to be going down a hill with some sticks attached to their feet, not driving a powerful car on a frozen lake! From the dining room in the hotel you look out onto one of the ski slopes. My first thought was “I wonder if a Land Rover could drive up that” guess I`ll never know the answer to that one. The rooms are kept nice and warm, and the one I was in had a chalet feel to it, and a bath which was a bonus.

In the morning you are picked up by one of the team members and taken to the lake, talk about feeling in safe hands on the icy snow-covered roads. But to be fair, they know how the deal with the snow on the roads in these countries, the UK could learn a lot!! When you get to the lake it’s hard to believe that under all the snow there’s a small airport. On arrival at the HQ you’re met by the bubbly and enthusiastic Alison, with introductions to the rest of the team. It’s so clear that there is only one thing on the IceDriver teams’ minds… making sure you have the best time possible. Hot coffee is available straight away and is on tap most (all) of the day. I spoke with Andy (Mr IceDriver) and Alison to make sure we were on the same page for the photos. Next up was the driver briefing and got a few photos, Andy has a way of making everyone feel at ease with his explanations of what the day will entail. Then it was out to the lake, I was chauffeured there by their youngest son Ben (he might be a few years away from a driving licence but this lad knows how to drive a car and his speed on the lake itself is something else) There were two different areas of the ice being used. One was a slalom style course and the other has the track. On the track my chauffer was one of the instructors and none other than Jake Hill the BTCC driver, you can see why he is good when the tracks are wet!

One of the best things standing on the side with the camera was seeing how quickly the customers were gaining confidence under the guidance of the instructors and getting quicker and more sideways with every lap. Having had experience of the supercar track days and being on the ice a few years ago with these guys the IceDriver instructors are a level above! Andy in particular has a unique way of instructing using sounds effects for the loud pedal and the brake, it bloody works as well!

There’s coffee available track side (told you) and there is also a little hut with and open fire so you can keep warm if you need to. After a morning of full on action it was back to the HQ for a nice warm soup lunch, and more coffee. The chat over lunch was all about the morning on the ice. The smiles on everyone’s faces was proof that this is the best winter fun you can have.

After lunch it was straight back to the lake. This time it was the slalom course being used. Got some cracking shots of the cars totally sideways, these guys (and girls) are fast learners! I was hugely impressed with the way they were getting the FWD Focus rally car sideways.

I was really put thru my paces with the photography, I’m used to taking photos of motorsport where for 99% of the time the cars will be heading the direction you expect, with the ice driving the cars are being flicked left and right and no two laps have the cars in the same position on the track. That added to the fun for me, catching those long drifts with the snow and ice being thrown behind the cars. As the darkness began to set in it was back to the HQ. I had read before I went the best way to look after the cameras in the -15 (and colder) conditions. If you take a camera from the freezing conditions straight into the hot there is a chance of condensation inside the camera and the lenses, this is something you don’t want. So, a handy tip. Take the memory cards out in the cold (that way you can view them on your phone or computer while your camera warms up) then place your camera and lens into a bag that you can seal. I found an extra-large sandwich bag with the press close top was perfect. Having them in the bag means that as they warm up the condensation with form on the outside of the bag and not inside the camera. The tricky thing with the taking photos of the Ice Driver cars is they are so dark with the crisp white snow, so it’s a balancing act to get the exposure right. But when I did… the cars just popped! One thing I would recommend to anyone taking photos in wintery conditions, and it might be obvious... Invest in some decent gloves! I got some where the tips of the thumb and index finger folded back on themselves should you need to make adjustments without taking the gloves off. 

The lake is surrounded by amazing scenery, tho when you’re in the car that’s the last thing you are interested in! I did get some cracking photos of the landscapes (mostly with fast moving blue cars in them)

Back to the hotel, this gave me a chance to look at the day’s photos before dinner. Now I said this was an awesome hotel… The food lives up to that in a huge way, and the servings weren’t small either. It was a pretty full on day, so back to the room and some more photo editing, another busy day tomorrow.

Day 2…

The IceDriver bus was there waiting when I got to reception, so it was back to the lake with the drivers for today. As soon as you get to IceDriver HQ there’s a coffee waiting for you, so well looked after on and off the ice. The morning session was on the circuit again. The difference in the “students” from yesterday was so apparent, so much more confidence in their right feet! Went to the back side of the track this time so get the cars on the longer straight (if there’s such a thing on the ice, the cars are going sideways so much of the time.

I got the surprise of my life after about 90 minutes when a couple of husky and sled teams suddenly appeared, seems I was standing on the husky highway. Stepping out the way as I was suddenly waist deep in snow, got some very strange looks from the huskies as they went past as we were now eye level. I can only imagine the thoughts were something about “idiot” in Norwegian dog language.

After the break for lunch (more awesome and very welcome soup) I was told that I was getting out on the lake for the afternoon! How awesome… ****ing awesome that’s how awesome.

Climbing into the BMW the phrase “fast hands, light feet” was going thru my head. And off we set, the first few laps were gradually building up the speed and confidence with the instructor pushing you on at a steady, but not overpowering pace. It really is like dancing on ice, in a car. You can feel what the car is doing thru your backside and then you try to react, by react it’s performing a little dance of your own on the pedals to get the car sideways and going forward at the same time. They also give you just enough laps in each stint in the car so that you don’t get too worn out, believe me its not like popping the local shops, there might not be traffic lights but you are looking for the best ice, trying to hit that point to get maximum slide without ending up facing the wrong way (I managed to only do this once) I can tell you this, after time on the ice the confidence that you have in your own abilities and how to react to that unexpected slide on the roads is increased so much. I have used those fast hands and light feet a few times (maybe not always by accident)

The end result for me was some great photos for the team, and a smile a mile wide from being in the car. When you visit Ice Driver YOU are the main focus for them, they want you to have the best time and pull out all the stops to make that happen.

So, tell me this… why would you want to get dragged up a snowy hill, come back down with a plank of wood attached to your feet, before getting dragged back up… When you can get into a specially prepared car and go dancing on the ice!

For 2020 they have the current Ginetta GT5 champion and top bloke Scott McKenna as one of their instructors.

For more about IceDriver click >AWESOME<

For more photos click >Ice Ice Baby<

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