Sliding on ice is not exactly fun for most drivers. But for competitive drifter Ben Laflamme, his idea of winter fun is sliding sideways on a frozen lake, connecting corners on a slippery course as fast as he can.
Laflamme is one of the organizers behind a winter ice track on Ghost Lake, which is roughly 40 kilometres west of Calgary. The organizers say their creation is the largest ice track in North America, complete with courses designed by professional drivers.
For those unfamiliar with drifting, Laflamme explained it this week on the Calgary Eyeopener: "It's basically you get in your car, your side-by-side, your ATV, your dirt bike right on that frozen lake and going sideways."
This is the third year that Laflamme and others have created the ice track on Ghost Lake. They started in late 2020 with a small circular track. Now they have six course designs totalling nearly 10 kilometres of track.
"It's getting busier and busier every weekend," said Laflamme, who owns a company called Faster Higher. It offers customers the chance to get behind the wheel of a side-by-side built for ice drifting.
Amber Garrett, a Calgary resident, drifted for the first time on Sunday morning. As a gift, her partner, Dan Neesom, had booked them both 45-minutes sessions with Faster Higher.
While Garrett described herself as a "racing and driving enthusiast," she was hesitant to get on the track.
"I was worried I wouldn't get a lot out of it, and I hadn't seen a lot of women in a lot of the [social media] videos, either," she said.
However, she found the atmosphere inclusive and supportive, with the instructors clearly explaining the technique and helping improve with each lap.
"By the end of it, I was going way faster than I expected, actually drifting around a ton of the corners," Garrett said. "It was a ton of fun.… It was way better than I expected."
'Just be safe out there'
The ice track is on a public lake, meaning that anyone can drive onto the ice.
"We see people coming with any type of cars," Laflamme said, noting the vehicles range from front-wheel drive cars to snowmobiles.
First-timers aren't advised to hit the ice track right away, Laflamme said. Instead, he suggests that first-timers begin with watching other drivers before getting on the course and doing a few slow laps.
Going too fast too soon could result in car damage, or even an accident.
"There are no authorities that are on site to tell you what to do, what not to do," Laflamme said. "So you have to follow the bylaw and just be safe out there."
William Rappel, a videographer for Faster Higher, has gone to the ice track five times so far this year. He says one of the best parts of being out on the ice is the sense of community.
"Everybody out there is kinda one big family," he said.
Style over speed
Rappel explained that drifting is different than racing.
"Racing is trying to get around the track the fastest; drifting is kinda a bit more about the style," he said. "So when you can connect a couple corners and slide them well … you get a rush and you just know that the line you just drove around the track was good."
The ice track is created using a side-by-side with a snowplow attached to the front. The track is initially plowed when the ice is only thick enough to hold an ATV. This year's ice track took about three days to make.
Throughout the winter, the track needs to be plowed after every snowfall.
Laflamme said he and other drifters created the first ice track while bored over the winter months.
However, they found that drifting on ice offered good practice for the competitive season. It also had the benefit of being much cheaper than drifting on pavement.
"We don't have to worry about the car breaking so much," Laflamme said. "We don't have to worry about tires, and the car doesn't need as much power to drift on ice."
For non-competitive drivers, drifting also has value, Rappel said.
"It's a very good skill to be able to drive on ice," he said. "Because then when you hit ice on the normal streets, you know much better how to control a car."