Volvo Ice Camp and Ice Driving

Ice driving in the Volvo XC60, husky sledding, sleeping in an igloo 8,000 feet up a mountain? Who could possibly resist?

Volvo’s second ice camp on the mountain of Kitzsteinhorn in Austria is nominally all about launching the refreshed C30 Coupe, C70 Convertible and XC60 R-DESIGN, but it’s tough not to come to the conclusion that it’s also about having a whale of a time to boot.

Aligning Volvo with extreme sports and adventure excursions is a good idea, especially in light of Volvo’s efforts to turn perception of the brand away from being a manufacturer that simply produces massive estate cars.

To this end the smart C30 and rather fetching XC60 make sense – especially if they come to be associated with the kind of pursuits evident on the ice camp trip. Volvo’s sponsorship of the Snowbombing festival seems directed at this end too.

The C70 is harder to place in this new Swedish order for me, but Volvo is persevering nonetheless, and a new S60 due this summer looks promising too.

Anyway, our adventure begins in January, the big British chill still a recent memory. The angst and cold of that fortnight are about to be put into sharp focus by the conditions that are to follow.

A trip to the Austrian ski resort of Kaprun in the C30 and C70 from Munch airport beckons, and some hardy (or foolhardy) motoring hacks decide to make their way to lunch with the C70’s folding metal roof down. It’s minus 12 outside. What’s that saying about mad dogs and Englishmen? Brits seem determined to defy conditions whatever the weather.

The coupe and coupe-cabriolet have been refreshed to bring them in line with Volvo’s current design language, and they look sharp.

Their relevance to the prevailing conditions in Germany isn’t immediately obvious, but they do tie in with the kind of lifestyle choices that people going on adventure holidays might make and, fitted with winter tyres, they take the tricky roads in their stride.

Deep snow and icy conditions combine to make a picture-postcard scene across southern Germany, and the Alps start looming large as we approach the part-frozen Lake Chiemsee.

Switching cars takes us deep into the heart of the mountain range, and into more tricky driving conditions and weather. It does not bode well for the night ahead – 8,000 feet above sea level in an igloo.

Volvo Ice Camp

The camp consists of a number of sleeping igloos, a number of support structures and a large main igloo with four cells. One, bizarrely, contains a Volvo C30 whose very presence demands answers to how on Earth in ended up there.

Volvo’s ice camp can only be reached via two cable cars and a third leg on skidoo. It’s so high that we’re given a rather concerning talk about altitude sickness, and a further worrying set of instructions concerning the cold.

And boy is it cold. As cold as minus 25 with wind chill later that night, when squalling sleet drives sideways into the face at high speed.

A correct application of layers and observation of cold-weather rules of survival are vital, so much so that after sitting at ice tables for two hours, we’re marched outside for a late-night trek across the the mountain.

Glancing around the circle of cold-weather-clad motoring journalists, breath fogging in the air, identities hidden by masks and balaclavas, I try not to think of The Thing.

The walk makes sense only when it’s finished, as I spend most of it convinced I’m about to plunge down a crevasse or simply expire on the mountainside, a whispered ‘Go on without me,’ the last words from my freezing lips.

Afterwards we huddle around a fire in a teepee, while others brave the outdoor jacuzzi. “Don’t put your head underwater,” says Christian, the camp organiser. “Or your head will freeze.”

The night everyone has been dreading proves uneventful. While cold inside the igloos, it’s toasty inside the industrial-strength sleeping bags we’re provided with, though a test bottle of water I left by the bed was frozen solid when I awoke the next morning.

A further skidoo ride down the mountain and carousels to the bottom reveals that the C30s and C70s have been replaced by XC60 R-DESIGN models. A good thing, as the roads have been replaced by a foot of snow.

“Are the roads OK?,” someone wonders aloud. “They are OK,” replies Lars, who is here with Volvo. “But they are full of snow.”

The journos are not reassured, but the Volvo SUVs take the weather in their stride, with some help from the ruthlessly efficient Austrian snow ploughs.

XC60 Ice Driving

Before long we’re at the small Austrian village of Hintersee, where a test track cut from a frozen field is covered in snow. At one side of the larger field is a vast frozen lake.

Wintry conditions pile at least a foot of snow on the track, adding another tricky element to proceedings, as does the driving snow which occasionally results in near-whiteout conditions.

It’s hard to know what information can be gleaned fro the XC60 R-DESIGN in these conditions, beyond the fact that tooling a 2.4-litre 4WD SUV with a sports chassis is immense fun – something probably evident from my vaguely manic cackling as I take the XC60 sideways around corners, twirling the steering wheel like it’s a Dodgem.

Miraculously I manage to only destroy one route marker, and my XC60 escapes unscathed.

I’d hoped to get the XC60 misbehaving like Tonya Harding on the ice, but traction control, snow tyres and an autobox reluctant to pile on revs when grip is lacking mean I get Jane Torvill instead.

While this may be bad news for any Scandinavian rally wannabes, it’s undoubtedly good news for anyone who wants to get home in one piece, so Volvo obviously has its priorities right.

Active safety aids, winter tyres and a tight chassis mean that the XC60 takes the difficult conditions in its stride, reassuring news for anyone panicking that a few days worth of snow during winter means we all have to run out and buy the nearest 4×4.

Nevertheless, the ice driving is probably the most fun anyone’s ever had in a Volvo, and most drivers remain on the straight, slippy and narrow – with only the odd plunge into the drifting snow, caused by over-ambitious hooning, to pause proceedings.

A short drive down the road allows us to swap the XC60 for huskies, though judging from spending a few minutes behind the running dogs, emissions are probably lower on any of the Volvo DRIVe models – now tweaked to deliver sub-120g/km emissions on the V70 estate and S80 models.

The Volvo probably wins in the warmth and comfort stakes too – dual-zone aircon and heated seats really take the sting out of the biting conditions.

Having said that, there’s undoubtedly something rather serene about travelling by dog, and it’s hard not to form a kinship with the the stinking creatures in the short time we spend with them.

They may be smelly, slightly radged and perpetually fighting with one another, but it’s easy to form an attachment to them, in the same way that it’s hard not to love a cherished old banger than refuses to start when you’re trying to get home at the end of a long day.

If your life depended on it you’d learn to quickly value and respect, perhaps even love, your dogs – unlike Amundsen, who drove his ’til they expired, then ate them. Typical Scandinavian efficiency. I don’t think you’d get much of a meal out of the XC60 though, though the R-DESIGN’s standard leather seats may get you through a tough patch.

Anyway, before long the night draws in and it’s time to head off in the XC60 towards the stunning municipality of Berchtesgaden, through more tricky conditions.

The two days’ worth of events have provided extremely diverse and challenging – the various Volvo models connecting destinations like lines joining dots.

The ice camp, driving around wintry Germany and Austria and tooling the XC60 around Hintersee prove that it is possible to cope with the occasional curve balls the weather may throw at you – if only you have the right mindset and tools for the job.

Which is where models like the XC60 come in to their own – built for the road, they’re nevertheless capable in more difficult conditions. And if your local authority can’t be bothered to clear the road for you, you need to rely on your own initiative or your car. The Volvo crossover fits the bill well in the latter case.

The C30 coupe is a right little looker and a good drive, and the C70? Well, I’ll come back to the C70 – probably during the summer and preferably by a beach; miles away from igloos, ice and huskies.

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