For a brief moment there, I felt like James Bond: drifting my Aston Martin with studded tires across a frozen lake. Then I remembered I wasn’t out there chasing down an evil villain or solving a serious crime that put the whole world in danger. I was following a part-time driving instructor named Paul, who was in a ’98 Corolla with 190,000 miles and dents the size of a desk lamp.
More importantly, I didn’t have James Bond’s suave, self-assured attitude. Instead, I was convinced that I was going to fall through the ice, and I was going to die, and they wouldn’t find me until the spring, when Bill and Bob’s Vermont Towing would show up at the lake and casually muse about how “Gosh darnit, we haven’t pulled out an Aston Martin before” as they extracted my fish-eaten body from the lake bed.
You may remember last week, when I told you I was going on an 800-mile road trip from Philadelphia to Vermont and back in order to test out some Nokian Hakkapeliitta 8 tires, which were generously provided to me by the folks at Nokian so I could see how my Aston Martin performed in winter weather.
So I did that. I drove up to Vermont—350 miles one way—and I met with the excellent team at Nokian’s U.S. headquarters, near Burlington. They were very nice, and they took me on a tour of their facility, and they taught me all about winter tires, and they gave me yummy pastries.
Then it was off to drive the Aston in the snow. But there was only one problem: there is no snow. And I don’t mean there’s only a little snow, like maybe an inch here or there. I mean that Vermont, Snowy Kingdom of the North, home of polar bears and igloos, land where people ski to work and invite caribous over for drinks, is currently about as dry as a scientific symposium on the sleep patterns of adolescent tree frogs.
I was lamenting this lack of snow to a reader named Bill, who I met for dinner after I arrived on Thursday night. “You know,” said Bill. “You ought to take the Aston out on a frozen lake.” I told Bill he was crazy. I’m not driving an automobile on a frozen lake. “No, really,” said Bill. “You should take it out on a frozen lake!” Bill, I repeated. Be reasonable. I’m not driving an Aston Martin on a frozen lake.
The next morning, I was pulling up to the public boat ramp at Lake Iroquois in Williston, Vermont, which was frozen solid with 8 inches of pure ice.
I’ve never been so scared in my life.
I was not, however, committing a crime. Over dinner, Bill explained to me that driving on a frozen lake is not only completely legal in Vermont, but commonly done: people do it for fun. People do it because they can. In the winter, they have ice racing events instead of autocrosses. And fishermen take their trucks out on frozen lakes to go ice fishing. Plus, Bill told me, “when a lake in Vermont is frozen over, it’s a public highway.”
I didn’t believe Bill when he told me this, so I went home and looked it up in the Vermont Driver’s Handbook. Turns out, he’s right: a frozen lake is treated as a public roadway, with a speed limit of 50 miles per hour. Imagine getting a citation for speeding while you’re driving on a lake.
Paul, in his ’98 Corolla, went out first. This was a good idea, because Paul actually knows with he’s doing: a driving instructor and the Sports Car Club of Vermont’s ice racing guru, Paul had a lot of experience with driving on frozen lakes. He had also created his own studded tires by drilling 150 holes in a standard snow tire, placing bolts in the holes, and sealing them. Paul’s tires were so effective that we later did a drag race with his Corolla against my Aston Martin, and he was three car-lengths ahead before I even got moving.
When I ambled out on to the ice, I was petrified. You can see in the video just how scared I am, and I wasn’t putting on a show for the camera. I truly and honestly thought that I was going to fall through the ice, and I was going to die of hypothermia like Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic, and the Chittenden County Coroner was going to put down my cause of death as “stupidity.”
But I didn’t. And I spent the next three hours going from “fearful” to “thrilled.”
At first, I had to get my bearings. The studded Nokian tires were excellent, and they were crucial to the experience: acceleration, though vastly different from driving on pavement, was impressively easy. Turning was a little more challenging because there was a lot of understeer, but the car managed to go just about everywhere I put it. And braking, surprisingly, wasn’t really all that bad.
Before too long, I was drifting around, laughing, and screaming “WOOO!” at the top of my lungs, like a child on a roller coaster, as the car slid around video game-style. It was the most fun I’ve had behind the wheel in a long time – and a far cry from a few weeks ago, when my summer tires couldn’t even get me moving on less than an eighth of an inch of snow.
Eventually, it was time to get off the ice, and back to dry land. And I spent the next day and a half meeting with readers and viewers—the BMW fans at PRIME Shades, the amazing Defender-stocked 4x4 Center, the incredible array of vintage exotics at RPM in Vergennes, and the awesome University of Vermont Car Club—until it was time to head home.
Speaking of heading home, it’s worth noting that the Aston Martin behaved phenomenally on this trip. It covered 851 total miles, some seriously frigid temperatures, and below-zero wind chill without even a hiccup, blowing warm air, playing music, and keeping warning lights off the dashboard the entire time.
Suffice it to say I’m starting to gain a little faith in this car. Not a lot of faith, though: the entire time we were out on the ice, I didn’t once shut off the engine for fear that it wouldn’t restart again.
You can never be too careful.