Author Maggie Stiefvater travels to Porsche’s winter playground and discovers the hard stuff underneath the powder.
I was going to write about my Porsche Camp4Canada experience, but I’m not sure it really happened.
On paper, the camp seems real. It’s just one of Porsche’s several Driving Experiences designed to help the affluent enthusiast understand all the vehicular hijinks you can get into without voiding your warranty. Come hither, Camp4Canadas urges: drive cars in the snow. It’ll be fun! It’ll be educational!
It might’ve been a dream.
My flight from Virginia followed close on the heels of the so-called Snowpocalypse. The storm had put a three-foot pillow of snow over my state’s head until its legs had stopped kicking, and so I dug myself out of domestic snow in order to recreationally drive in exotic snow. On the plane, my seatmate was a traveling salesman, an evolutionary marvel of immutable smiles and unflinching eye contact. Before we landed, I asked him if he enjoyed his life.
“100 percent!” He was all teeth. I didn’t think he’d blinked since we took off.
I was headed to drive Porsches on ice and even I’d have only said 85 percent. I feel the 15 percent crap is important for the rest to seem relevant. “Really?”
100 percent is a lot.
Camp4Canada began with a drivers’ meeting at the resort. Ordinarily these cover physics and safety regulations, but this one focused mainly on the healing power of fun. Techno music underlined caffeine’s effects as a screen displayed Porsches sliding pluckily around like seals on mind-altering substances.
How much fun?
A bus drove us to Mécaglisse, the hosting track. Snow fell softly in huge, lazy flakes, improbably perfect before a mountainous backdrop. As I climbed out, an enthusiastic cry startled me. A group of preternaturally lovely women in matching red coats with fur hoods waited outside, beaming and cheering for – I wasn’t sure. Their elation suggested they hadn’t seen other humans for months, like they’d been frozen in this snowy remote paradise until the bus’ arrival had magically woken them. The Porsche Sirens of Mécaglisse high-fived everyone before showing us to the cars.
Oh, the cars.
The pit area was a jewelbox wonder of 911s and Caymans, impossibly appealing against the snow. Everyone was bareheaded and handsome as they buckled up. Other driving schools require helmets and five-point harnesses, roll cages and fire extinguishers, but not Camp4Canada.
Don’t worry, Porsche said. You’re safe here.
They weren’t wrong. The day proceeded with the surreal internal consistency of a dream. We easily drove rear-wheel drive cars with several hundred horsepower around an ice-solid skid pad. On the slalom, cars spun out in gentle slow-motion while instructors and hostesses smiled with the bright patience of proud parents. My driving partner drifted neatly while looking at her in-car camera the entire time.
“It’s just that easy,” she told it.
We didn’t even get cold. Our toys had seat heaters.
There was no end to the fun to be had, and no beginning to consequences. One of my peers stuffed a Porsche up to its ass in a solid snowbank. A fresh-faced Porsche Siren was on hand with a smile and a wooden spoon to clear snow from the undamaged grill.
“I think the airbags are shut off,” he told me, confused, logic struggling to wake him from the dream. “It should have gone off. I guess snow is soft?”
We did another lap. Every car was still beautiful; everyone was still smiling. Red-cloaked hostesses and instructors cheered with frenzied enthusiasm. As I slid a Cayman through a physically impossible corner, a mirthful instructor threw a snowball at us. The thwack it made was the loudest impact I’d heard that day. My driving partner mused that we should have gotten it on camera.
Nice thought, but I wasn’t sure it would’ve appeared on film. I suspected half the staff wouldn’t see their reflections in a mirror.
Later, I slow-motion nosed a Carrera 4 into a snowbank. A red-coated troop arrived in a Cayenne and I watched a Porsche recover a Porsche as another Porsche smiled from the sidelines. I was beginning to understand that I’d died on the trip from Virginia and that this was what the afterlife looked like for people who committed most of their sins in rear-wheel-drive cars.
The truth was that I was feeling a little strange. Flying in a dream is fun, but it’s not as rewarding as flying when awake. This unrelenting planned goodness was hard to metabolize.
I wasn’t sure I’d really earned this 100 percent.
It wasn’t until the end of the day that it changed. By then, the track surface had become polished and unpredictable by hours of journalists spinning their wheels. Plummeting toward a chicane in the Cayman, I discovered the once-forgiving surface was now a frozen waterfall. Finally the expensive tires with studs illegal in most solar systems were not enough to thoughtlessly save me.
For the first time, I felt the unpredictable joy of a Porsche on ice. Not the premeditated challenge of executing a well-marked Scandinavian flick in a car ideally equipped to make it accessible. Not a Porsche Siren clapping enthusiastically for an incredible turn the car had earned but you hadn’t. Instead, the rippling shock of grip being snatched from beneath you.
I was working hard. The car was working hard. I could feel the front tires scrabbling hopefully for traction, and I suddenly noticed that the Cayman’s engine note was a snarling and beautiful thing. In that moment, and not a second before, I really felt what an incredible machine I was in. You great asshole, I thought. Let’s do this thing.
It was a messy scuttle down. Then I recovered. Exited stage left with a picturesque drift. 100 percent.
But it was that oh-shit 15 percent that came before that is the joy of the Porsche driving experience.
Back at the chalet, we packed up. The waving hostesses prepared to return to their enchanted sleep. I got into the bus.
Then I woke up.
The salesman on the plane did finally relent. He described how he’d once stayed in a Japanese monastery beside an ancient cemetery. A planned excursion kept him out all day, and when he returned, dark had fallen. The monks had lit hundreds of candles, and as he wandered the fire-lit darkness, he couldn’t see the monks, but he could hear them singing.
“It was–” He stopped smiling. He didn’t have to finish the sentence. “I’m going to give you the name of that place. You should go there some day.”
I’m going to give you Camp4Canada’s website and tell you to go someday. But if you do, I want to remind you to go not for the planned excursion, but for the candles in the dark.
That’s the stuff I’m sure is real.