The Subaru Winter Experience featured a day-long driving school held on Dollar Lake in Wisconsin. Carved into the iced-over lake, 5 different courses were set to teach drivers in BRZs, WRXs, and WRX STIs how to handle these machines in frozen conditions. Instructors from DirtFish Rally School in Snoqualmie, WA were also on hand to run the event alongside Patrik and his team from Sweden.
That morning I spent a good hour driving through snow-covered back roads around the area. The scenery was postcard-worthy and my STI was loving the conditions with my snow tires. After my morning joyride, I met up with the drivers and instructors at the lodge. Once we were done with breakfast, they gave us a brief explanation of what to expect and sent us out to a fleet of Subarus to drive to the lake and start the course. I jumped in a WRX STI with another student and followed the caravan through the narrow road to the lake. Upon arriving, we jumped right in to some driving courses. The WRXs and WRX STIs we were in started things off with accelerating and braking to feel out how the cars handled in the slick conditions. I was surprised at how much grip these cars still had until I learned that 400 studs on each tire were likely responsible for keeping us glued to the surface.
As the day progressed, we changed from All-Wheel Drive courses for the WRX and WRX STI to rear-wheel drive courses for the BRZ. Slalom courses and technical turns helped us dial in our tail-happy BRZs and open flowing courses let us put the AWD to the test with the WRXs. There was plenty of time driving all of the vehicles, letting us make more adjustments each time and start mastering the basic skills we had started off the day with. During the runs, we were also invited to explore the different traction control settings in the car not only from a safety aspect, but also to let us learn the limits of our cars without being towed out of a snow bank if we got a little too confident!
The last course had a bit of everything. As such, we were invited to drive all three cars through as often as we liked. Certain areas of this 2-mile long course favored the BRZ while other sections let the WRX and WRX STI shine, so we could appreciate both types of drive systems that we had been learning through the day. My co-driver and I had been working our way toward turning the traction control nannies completely off to complete this monster of a course, so it was rewarding to make it through on skill alone. Little did we know that we were about to go from feeling like Driving Gods to bed-wetting babies with the instructors parting gift.
Patrik Sandell rounded up the students and instructors one last time on the lake. It was time for them to show us how it was really done! One by one, each student got the ride of their life in a WRX STI and a BRZ with one of the instructors. I managed to jump in with Patrik in a WRX STI and was absolutely floored at how effortlessly he drove through the course. At a spot where I had managed to hit 52 mph, Patrik passed the same point doing 64... and he was sideways through most of it! If that wasn't enough, Michelle Miller from DirtFish took me through the course in a BRZ and made poetry out of the course, transitioning each corner flawlessly. It was a humbling experience in both cars!
I can't think of another time when I had so much fun and learned so much. It was so easy to understand and feel the cars on ice, so I'm hoping the skills I honed on Dollar Lake will make their way into my rallycross driving at home. More than that, it was such a great time enjoying a day of driving with my fellow classmates and our instructors. The Subaru Winter Experience really lived up to it's name. It's an experience I'll never forget.