Ice and easy does it
Hone your driving skills on a frozen lake in northeast Finland
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
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