One day. Countless miles of backcountry mountain hooning. No cars. No cops. No speed limits. A new frontier, finally reachable thanks to proper rubber. Grab your cold weather gear and slide right in to the “Mega-Miata winter tire review and trip report!”
With no snow in the forecast I decided to take matters into my own hands. A quick weather check showed tons of snow at my summer drift spot, referred to internally as “Drift Mountain.” Alright, easy enough. Hour drive there, hoon till I die/freeze/get tired, and then another hour drive back.
With about as much forethought and planning invested into this trip as the average man puts into taking a shower, I was off. Driving east—top down, obviously—I watched the murcury slowly drop as the elevation rose.
An hour later I pulled into Skykomish, the last shining outpost of civilization I would see before venturing off into the dark unknown. Stopping briefly, from the trunk I retrieved a scarf—cashmere—a blanket—Mexican—and a blueberry muffin. Wrapped around my head the scarf did a passable job blunting the icy wind. Draped over my lap, the blanket kept my lower half from further cold-induced numbness. The chill momentarily held at bay, I reached for my muffin and managed to knock it onto the ground, where it hastily rolled through snow and bushes until it was lost to the river’s current. An offering to the weather gods. It was time to leave.
I pulled back onto the road and continued onwards, Skykomish fading in the rear view, seemingly lost to mankind in the encroaching fog.
Alone. No passenger. No data connection. No friendly hikers. There was no one else out there, but myself and the red blob carrying me forward. Or so I thought...
What do I see standing in the middle of my lane? A big ol’ goat. Not feeling confident in my chances of coming out of that collision on top, I went around. Wide.
Zero trouble with traction thus far, I took off along a forest service road that led to an almost unending series of trails rooted throughout the mountains. I was greeted by potholes, ice, dirt and snow in equal measure. I made a quick stop to adjust my coilovers, tightening compression and rebound so I could take bigger bumps without tearing into my fenders and losing grip when I needed it most. Not ideal for offroading, but the best I could do with the setup I had. Even maxed out, my coilovers were still slightly lower than stock ride height, and my tires were significantly taller than stock. Fender rolling would have erased the issue, but funds were still flatlined after “The Great Christmas Wallet lightening of 2017".
Tighter suspension worked wonders, letting me send it at higher speeds, trusting the shocks to soak up the small stuff while avoiding the bigger obstacles. In the name of science I swung the back end out, kicking up rooster tails in the midday sun. Good god. Three inches of snow at this point, and the level of precision at my fingertips was mind-boggling. There was almost zero learning curve, and soon I was drifting the uphill switchback with reckless abandon. Faster. Faster still. Slow down and you may never be able to continue forward. Keep momentum, and you’ll be golden, despite the snow level that’s now level with your front lip. It was heavenly. I broke through the treeline and upon arriving at a flat section of the trail, took a quick break.
20° F, - 7° C. Hopped back in, and finally gave in, turning on the heater.
Aimed at my feet.
Fan at the lowest level.
Top, still very much down.
Half a tank of gas left. Fuel economy sucked as always, but smiles per gallon? We had that gauge pinned! Passed the one and only other car I would see the entire adventure. A green Forester XT kitted out like a mini Land Cruiser. Roof rack, gas cans, recovery gear, spare tire on a swing arm... The whole nine yards. Owner was nowhere in site. Tracks showed that he and a dog had walked along a side trail. Too bad, it would have been nice to chat.
A bit further along I stopped at the base of a steep incline. The only way I’d see the top of that is with enough speed to plow through the built up snow that now reached above my front lip...
What the hell. I didn’t come here to not make it to the top. Backing up to the edge of a cliff, I took off, carefully building speed while keeping the rear tires from spinning. Bam. Second gear. Halfway up the back end started swaying but the front stayed planted. Forward momentum slowed, but didn’t stop, so I gritted my teeth and kept climbing.
I saw the light at the end of the tunnel.
There’s a small flat landing up ahead—just big enough to fit two parked Miatae—right before the trail does a 180° and continues upwards at an even steeper grade. Fantastic! Or... Maybe not.
Good new - I reached the landing.
Bad news - from a stop, despite being on flat ground I couldn’t get my car turned around to continue higher up. The snow was fresh, deep, and despite my best efforts all I managed was to understeer my way closer and closer to certain death on the side opposite to that which I wanted to be on. Fuck. I reversed back down, feeling frustration as I backtracked through every hard-gained inch I’d climbed on that damnable section. Fuck.
But mama didn’t raise no quitter. I had a plan. Whether it was a good or a bad plan depends on how greatly you trust in my driving skills. Personally, I put it at about 50% genius, 50% death wish.
Starting off like last time. I backed up to the edge of the cliff for maximum runway, blipped the throttle and took off, following my previous attempts tracks in an attempt to gain a bit more speed. Holding first just a hair longer, I snapped into second with fifty feet left before reaching the landing.
Once more, the back end began to shuffle back and forth. I ignored it, focusing solely on keeping the front end properly positioned. Hands numb with cold did all they could to work with the info sent to them via the wheels. It would have to be enough.
The landing was directly in front. To my right was a drop off that spelled doom. The left, a cliff face a good thirty feet above my current position. Rear end shot out to the right, towards the drop off. Not good. A perfect use of counter-steering, keeping throttle position the same brought the back end into line. Unfortunately, in the name of saving the back end, I’d inadvertently turned my front wheels directly into the packed snow lining the tracks from my previous attempt up the hill. With the sudden reduction in forward momentum, the rear end once again shot out, this time towards the cliff wall. Fuck it. Now or never.
No correcting, this time. As I reached the landing I mashed the gas, locked the wheel, and kicked the clutch. Now in neutral, revs climbed higher and higher, and upon releasing the clutch and re-engaging second gear, the sudden increase in engine speed cause my already slipping rear tires to completely break lose. This was no smooth rev-matched down-shift, done to keep maximum grip and reduce clutch wear. Not even close. Almost the opposite in fact. A violent maneuver that briefly cuts power, than brings it back with interest, overloading the driven wheels in order to break traction. Powersliding, turned up to eleven. For situations where you need every single bit of momentum that you can get, clutch kicks are much better than parasitic handbrake turns.
Front end plowing forward, the back rotated across the landing, and with a bit of opposite-lock, I managed to get the red beast pointed up the next section of switchbacks while still maintaining speed. Despite being even steeper, this section was much easier and I made it to another, much larger landing where I could safely stop and catch my breath. The snow was packed down harder here—and in some parts covered in ice—so with a bit of care I could drive right on top of it. No more Miata-plow.
While I sat around eating lunch, I watched from above as Mr. Forester XT attempted the first switchback that had given me so much trouble. He came up slowly, too slow. Front tires started to spin and he just pressed down even harder, giving it even more gas. Surprise surprise, didn’t help. He backed down, stopped for awhile, and then attempted the hill again. He still didn’t back up very far initially, but nevertheless he managed to get to the first landing, and even to turn the Subaru towards the next. We were at opposite ends of the short, steep path.
Giving him a wave, I watched him repeatedly try to launch his car like he was on the track, to no avail. Eventually he turned around and I was again alone. Although the burnt clutch smell lingered. I’m positive that if he just eased it rather than dropping the clutch at 4k, he wouldn’t have had a problem making it up, even from a dead stop. Oh well. Entertainment over, I massaged feeling back into my extremeties, buckled up and took off.
Another hundred feet up, I turned around and headed back down the mountain. I’ve done this trail numerous times in the summer so I knew what was coming. Near the halfway point, things get much, much steeper, with massive dips across the entire trail that have be taken diagonally at low speeds. Couple that with the fact that there was now about seven inches of snow on top of the ice... Well. I’m proud of how far we made it. We’ll be back next time with a three inch lift, pulled fenders, and lip spoilers removed.
With great sight lines, I wasn’t too worried about spinning around corners... As the tire tracks can attest to. Forty-five minutes later I made it to the base of the mountain, and having seen no other cars decided to do a full-speed balls-to-the-wall hillclimb up to where I’d originally seen the Subaru.
No looking at the tach, speedo, cellphone. Eyes focused on where I wanted the car, because paying absolute attention was the difference between writing this story you’re reading now and having a story written in my memory. There were definitely times where one or two corners left the ground, but I never got completely airborne. Topped out at 67mph in 3rd gear, and kept traction in corners I was confident in. Where I wasn’t sure what my grip limits would be, I induced oversteer. Sounds counterintuitive, but if I’m going to possibly slide at high speeds, I’d much rather have it be on my terms.
Managed to mangle my bad fender a little bit more, but the other three were fine. Not a huge deal. Pulling back onto the road I got a quick shot of this stopsign, which if you look closely you’ll see has gotten a few “quick shots” of it’s own.
This was a fantastic, much needed trip. I’ve been cooped up indoors lately and desperately needed to blow off some steam. And I gotta say, the General Altimax Arctics are fantastic in the snow, offering great grip, good feel, and plenty of fun. On dry, subzero roads they’re perfectly fine, although I will say braking distances and feel are worse than they were with my bald summer tires in similar conditions. I was expecting dead handling and zero road feel, but that’s not the case at all. Obviously they’re no track tire, but aside from a slightly larger dead spot on-center, these didn’t diminish the lively characteristics that the Miata is known for in the slightest. Glad I went with winter tires, but I’m curious how they would compare to some hakkapeliitta’s!
I’ll leave you with a question, oppo. Who’s coming up with me next time..?