I am the Gimli Slider, AMG-wheeling, White Hell-taming hero of the frozen north

Share

  • Pinterest


Sliding across frozen Lake Winnipeg, I was caught in medias res by a sudden belch of power from the AMG’s mighty V8. I tamed this big-boned Bavarian with an indelicate application of throttle, spinning it through several rotations before finally parking it neatly off-piste, in the rough, just as planned. The man in the recovery truck was impressed by how thoroughly I’d wedged this E63 into the snowbank. I chucked him the keys and hitched a ride to the hot-chocolate hut.

Welcome to Gimli, Manitoba, a beach town unlike any other. In summer, the population triples to around 20,000 and the place buzzes to the tune of mosquitos and The Guess Who’s greatest hits. Good-time havers line the sandy shores with colorful towels. Drops of melted soft-serve smack the pavement. The Beach Boy Restaurant does a roaring trade in fried pickerel platters. Nearby, an abandoned Air Force base sees regular use as a drag strip.

In winter, however, this friendly beach town freezes over. Gimli is much closer in latitude to the Arctic Circle than to Miami. Lake Winnipeg, all 9,465 square miles of it, turns to solid ice as temperatures regularly drop below 0 degrees Fahrenheit.

When the good-time havers flee back to homes in Winnipeg, this town becomes a playground for those who can afford the 2,995 Canadian loonies ($2,325 U.S. or so) it costs to partake in AMG’s newest Winter Driving Academy, the only one outside of Sweden. These two- or three-day courses run in 12 waves during January and February.



Spending time with Tobias Moers CEO of Mercedes AMG



Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 Gimli winter driving school

CLA 45 at dawn. Photo by Chris Hau/Mercedes-Benz Canada


Despite the arrival of the AMG circus, Gimli is not exactly a famous town. If it can lay claim to any notoriety, it would be for the Crown Royal distillery, or the annual Islendingadagurinn festival for Icelandic ex-pats, or most probably for the story of the Gimli Glider. It is a tale of profound bravery and heroism, one which felt increasingly germane as I readied myself to head out onto the frozen lake.

At our disposal is a 5.3-mile ice track, dubbed White Hell, made up of three smaller circuits, and a pair of skid pads each nearly 500 feet wide. Time to go to work, then. I turned off the walkie-talkie to tune out a shout-y German voice saying “Halt! Halt!” and proceeded to give a masterclass in the art of the drift.

Three of AMG’s latest machines were available to sample. My tasting notes are as follows. The CLA 45: silly car nevertheless capable of extreme drift angles. Left it lodged in a snowbank. The C63 S: temperamental on ice, requires a masterful touch but more rewarding for it. You’ll find it when the ice melts. The E63 S: bloated but ruinously fast, accelerates while sideways. Left a car-sized hole in a local fishing hut.

How do I do it? Would you ask Michelangelo how he got so good at painting?




The Gimli Glider, Captain Bob Pearson’s Boeing 767, ran out of fuel at 35,000 feet with 69 souls aboard en route to Edmonton, Alberta. First officer Maurice Quintal calculated their range manually. Based on the rate at which the plane was falling out of the sky, they wouldn’t even make it to Winnipeg. So, they decided to divert north, to the site of former Royal Canadian Air Force Station Gimli. They couldn’t have known the old runway was being used by the Winnipeg Sports Car Club as a racetrack on that sunny Saturday in July 1983.

The 767 retained only basic flight control thanks to an ingenious device called a Ram Air Turbine, which supplied hydraulic pressure. Most of the cockpit instruments went dark and the plane was silent. The air-traffic controller figured he was talking to dead men.

They somehow found the runway but were coming in too fast and too high. Pearson flew the jet like a glider, dropping one wing and sideslipping to descend without picking up speed. He somehow landed it and stopped short of the racers and their families who were having barbecue. Three boys on bikes riding across the runway had to pedal for their lives, but everyone involved lived to tell the tale of the Gimli Glider.

Captain Pearson is a hero, the OG Sully Sullenberger. In Gimli, there’s a street named after Pearson and a particularly excellent museum dedicated to the incident.



Mercedes-AMG Gimli winter driving

The recovery truck, a familiar sight for those lacking the natural gift for low-traction driving. Photo by Lucas Dias/Mercedes-Benz Canada


2018 Mercedes AMG GLC63 S first drive A class of one



As I drifted across the ice for a brief second before the C63 got away from me — due to a tire-pressure imbalance probably or some kind of engine miscalibration, but certainly not because of any paucity of skill on my part — I felt a kinship with Pearson, of the sort that can only be shared by two men at the pinnacle of their respective fields. He and I, both at one with our chosen machines, taming them against the odds.

True, he saved 68 lives, plus his own, whereas I may have endangered a few. But in our separate-but-equal mastery of the mechanical realm and our coolness under pressure, there is — I like to think — a shared respect and understanding.

Is there not also something heroic in drifting a car? To balance a machine on that narrow edge between in and out of control is surely a feeling Pearson would find familiar.

Here’s to us, Heroes of Gimli.













Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

x

Check Also

August Deals on 2012 New Cars and Trucks

Bill Wright Toyota is advertising GREAT Deals on New 2012 Cars and Trucks this month. ...

10 Best Cruiser Motorcycles for Different Riders (Honest Buying Guide with Prices)

Even though Cruiser motorcycles originated in America many years ago, they have made their way ...

New Disney Cars 3 Lightning McQueen 6V Battery-Powered Ride On Test Drive Park Playtime

Ivan unbox and assemble his new Disney Cars 3 power wheel. Thank you for watching! ...