Ice and easy does it

Hone your driv­ing skills on a frozen lake in north­east Fin­land

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page - HEATHER SUN­DER­LAND

IT is mi­nus 26C, the ends of my hair are turn­ing white and ev­ery time I blink, my eye­lashes start to freeze to­gether. I am stand­ing at the edge of a frozen lake in Ku­usamo, in north­east Fin­land, wait­ing for my driv­ing in­struc­tor. I am go­ing to learn how to drive on ice.

A car ap­pears in the dis­tance, fly­ing over the frozen lake, a cloud of snow stream­ing out be­hind it. My in­struc­tor has ar­rived. Juha Kankkunen is a four-times world rally cham­pion and a leg­end in the rally rac­ing community. He now spends ev­ery Fe­bru­ary and March teach­ing peo­ple to drive on snow and ice at the Juha Kankkunen Driv­ing Academy in Ku­usamo.

Close to the Rus­sian bor­der, Ku­usamo is one of the most beau­ti­ful and unspoilt re­gions of Fin­land. Ma­jes­tic, snow-laden pine trees stretch as far as the eye can see, bro­ken only by flat ex­panses of frozen lakes and hill­sides jut­ting out of the land­scape — it’s a paradise for na­ture-lovers and win­ter sports en­thu­si­asts.

While the driv­ing academy feels as though it is out in the wilder­ness, it’s just a 10-minute drive from Ku­usamo city cen­tre, which is a hub of win­ter ac­tiv­ity from De­cem­ber to April.

There are more than 500km of cross-coun­try ski tracks nearby, sev­eral hun­dred kilo­me­tres of snow­mo­bile trails, four na­tional parks to ex­plore on skis and snow­shoes, and the pop­u­lar ski re­sort of Ruka, with 30 down­hill ski runs, is just a 20-minute drive away. There is also a host of other ac­tiv­i­ties to take part in, in­clud­ing rein­deer sleigh rides and husky sled­ding, ice climb­ing and north­ern lights trips, Fin­nish sauna and ice­hole swim­ming.

The county of Ku­usamo is 90 per cent for­est; it’s one of the few true wilder­nesses left in Europe. Dur­ing win­ter the tem­per­a­ture is fre­quently be­tween mi­nus 10C and mi­nus 25C, and by Fe­bru­ary the ice on the lakes is about 80cm thick, which is per­fect for driv­ing at speed. Nowhere else in the world can you drive as safely in such stun­ning sur­round­ings. And cer­tainly not with one of the world’s great­est rally driv­ers at your side.

As I climb into the pas­sen­ger seat next to Kank- kunen, I am sur­prised to dis­cover the car two-litre Golf TDI.

‘‘The only dif­fer­ence with these cars is the tyres we fit. They are spe­cial, stud­ded tyres for ex­tra grip,’’ he tells me. There are no roll bars or cage, as I was ex­pect­ing, and no har­ness, bucket seats or hel­mets.

‘‘We want to teach peo­ple to drive real cars in real con­di­tions,’’ says Kankkunen. ‘‘Of course we still have the Subaru sports cars and the oc­ca­sional Maserati and

is a nor­mal

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