Texas might have seen some gnarly winter weather these past few years, but those of us who live here aren’t regularly faced with ice and snow on our roads. So when I had the opportunity to head out to the snow-covered Circuit Mécaglisse in Québec to test out a 2023 Polestar 2, I was both excited and hesitant about my winter weather driving chops.
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Alright, alright, I’m not a full Texan. In fact, I was born and raised in Michigan, where I lived until I was 18 years old. I did driver’s ed during one particularly blustery northern winter, where just about every single moment I spent on the road was in the throes of a snowstorm. But ever since I moved south, I can count on one hand the number of days I’ve spent driving in winter conditions. In fact, I only really need a single finger: The last time I drove in snow was at Bridgestone’s winter driving school in Colorado in 2022. The single winter I spent in Philadelphia for graduate school was mild, and when it was bad, I just made my boyfriend (now husband) drive me around. Here in Texas, I work from home, so I don’t even drive in the rain unless there’s an emergency.
So my winter-weather driving skills were nearly a decade out of date. Thankfully, after a little trial and error at Circuit Mecaglisse, I began to re-learn the art of slick-surface driving. Here’s what I learned.
You Have to Be Alert on a Winter Circuit
I’ve done a handful of performance driving schools, but the biggest difference in these winter conditions was how the track surface would change lap after lap. The group of 10 journalists who attended this event were paired up two to a car. I’d put in my first two laps of a lesson and think, “Okay. I’ve got this.” Then we’d swap drivers, and another group would put in their laps. When I got back behind the wheel for my second set of laps, the track conditions were totally different. I had to brake earlier because the coating of snow had been scrubbed away to reveal a thick layer of ice below it. I needed to change my racing line to be able to get a little bit of grip on the surfaces that were still snowy.
Most driving schools I’ve attended are about the length of a standard workday, but this one was just under five hours — and I left feeling more exhausted than I would have after a day on a warm, dry track. That was because I never felt like I came to grips with the conditions, since they were always changing. I was grateful that we swapped drivers regularly; I don’t think I’d have been able to sustain a high level of concentration for long.
“Performance” Takes on a Whole New Meaning
While we were technically learning a series of performance driving techniques — slaloms, skid pads, track laps, and a lesson on the Scandinavian Flick — I didn’t actually feel like I was, uh, performing. I maxed out at about 30 mph and took braking cues from my grandma.
But I was at my absolute limit. My driving partner was born in Wisconsin and currently resides in Michigan; riding in the back seat during his stint, I was very aware of his ability to go much faster than me, with more control of the car. But I couldn’t really get down about it. Even if I wasn’t necessarily going fast, I was still performing. I just had to adjust my metrics to take into account that my limits were significantly lower in the snow.
My Natural Instincts and Reactions Need Some Training
My instructor had to keep reminding me when to accelerate, where to keep my hands, where to look, and what to do with myself generally. If I got a dollar each time he had to nudge me about something, I’d be able to buy myself quite a handsome dinner.
I’m one of those people who was never able to play any video game more stressful than Animal Crossing, because when I experience anxiety, my entire brain shuts down. I really struggled learning to drive for the same reason, but I’ve blessedly been able to find ease behind the wheel with plenty of practice. Throw in a new variable like snow, though, and I’m back at the blackboard trying to learn my ABCs.
I knew this about myself going in, so it wasn’t really a surprise that I approached an icy skidpad like it was my first skidpad ever. After a few laps, I was able to start coming to grips with the car, the conditions, and my own internal monologue — but it was a good reminder that, for as much as I’ve learned, I still have a lot of work to do.
Firmly out of My Comfort Zone
The Scandinavian flick is one rally’s most challenging moves. As well as looking cool as hell, the Scandi flick involves intentionally unbalancing your car to initiate a drift. The sliding of the rear wheels scrubs off enough speed to make the corner without needing to brake. Drivers who can successfully execute this technique are absolute masters of winter-weather car control — and it’s not exactly something you’d expect a Texan to get the hang of. As we rounded out the day at Circuit Mécaglisse, our instructors let us know that we’d learned enough to try this maneuver for ourselves.
To say I was nervous would be an understatement, but the instructors assured me they wouldn’t put me behind the wheel if they didn’t think I could do it. With only enough time for a handful of laps, the pressure was on.
I talk more about (kinda, sorta, mostly) nailing the Scandinavian Flick in my full review of the Polestar 2. Here, I want to highlight the sheer level of excitement that rushed through me when I realized I’d actually slipped and skidded my way through the chicane without hitting anything — and what a boost that was to my confidence.
If you’d asked me if I could master a Scandi flick prior to this school, I’d have said no. In fact, if the instructors at Circuit Mécaglisse had asked me if I wanted to try it, I very likely would have said no, too; I’d much rather watch. Instead, they just told me I was going to do it — and I did.
At each driving school I’ve attended, I learn some new car-control technique, but I walk away having learned far more about myself. Am I going to become a successful rally driver after one successful Scandi flick? Absolutely not. Have I been riding that “I’m a badass who can do anything” high since I got home from Québec? Yes. One-hundred percent.
I’ve been having a fairly uninspiring start to 2023. So far, it’s been one of those seasons of life where nothing seems to go to plan. I needed a little something to shake me out of my rut, to prove to myself that I have what it takes to do cool shit. Getting a powerful EV a little sideways, and keeping it controlled while successfully drifting through a corner, was the kick in the ass I needed to start reinventing myself in the daily grind.
Nobody’s Perfect — Especially Me
If you stuck me behind the wheel of a car on an ice-and-snow coated road for a long road trip, I’d feel more confident thanks to my time lapping a Polestar at Circuit Mécaglisse. But I don’t know if I’d be able to drive with the same ease and comfort I have in clear conditions. That’s okay; five hours of instruction won’t make anyone an expert. I made enough progress that I feel like I could make that big, hypothetical snowy journey. It’d probably take me longer than it needed to, and I’d probably end up at my destination all sweaty and exhausted, but I could do it. And that is damn good progress.