The frozen landscape that envelops the AMG winter driving school in Arjeplog, Sweden, is as frigid as one might expect—most of the time. But when Scandinavian snow coverage is less than optimal during summer months, AMG cognoscenti capture the endless winter by flocking to southern latitudes—namely, the Winter Sporting Driving Academy in Queenstown, New Zealand.
As northern climates bask in warmer weather, the AMG crew converts 1,200 acres of stunning winter wonderland into a high horsepower, tire-sliding playground for impassioned drivers. A fleet of muscular AMG steeds, from the diminutive CLA45 to the mighty GT S, keeps participants on razor’s edge as they absorb performance driving techniques from pros like lead instructor Peter Hackett.
“The snow is a living, breathing thing,” Hackett informs our group before we embark on a round of driving exercises that include slaloms, figure eights, and road-course layouts. The slipperiness of the ice and snow and the ever-changing conditions challenge the primal instinct to simply bury the accelerator to achieve maximum speed. Under these shifting circumstances, it takes measured doses of patience, precision, and advanced thinking to flick a vehicle sideways without a disgraceful spin-out.
Interestingly, each Mercedes-AMG vehicle has a distinct personality and reacts differently to driver inputs. Due to its all-wheel-drive layout, the CLA45 begs to be powered through a corner in order to maintain its stability. On the other hand, the rear-drive GT S demands extra doses of restraint since it has a tendency to kick its tail out. Performed successfully, a graceful powerslide is like automotive ballet on ice. Executed sloppily or with a leaden foot, and your vehicle can slip off course and plow into a snow bank, requiring a rescue from one of the G-Wagons on hand.
The New Zealand AMG school ($3,287 per drive day) offers a gratifying challenge for anyone who enjoys more than just going fast. Speeds rarely exceed 35 mph as drivers skid across low-friction surfaces, where loss of control occurs in inexorable slow motion. New Zealand may seem like an ideal destination for any driving enthusiast, but this invitation-only event draws solely from a list of AMG customers. As such, the New Zealand AMG program trumps the more commonly attended school in Sweden, making it the ultimate in exclusivity for those who seek to hone their driving skills in cold climates. (amgacademy.com)