By on May 24, 2013

Photo courtesy of

The black Nissan 200SX Turbo was only a few years old but it had been solidly thrashed over the years. It had obviously been an expensive, well optioned little car when it was new, but the people into which its well being had been entrusted had obviously not respected that fact. Now it slumped on its sagging suspension, any number of small dents defacing its once gracefully straight bodylines and its once beautiful aluminum wheels, now torn by contact innumerable curbs, were shod with cheap, mismatched tires. This car was supposed to be fast?

The little Nissan’s owner was almost as scruffy as the car. Tall with long flowing hair that fell down over his collar and got in his eyes, Kazu, a Japanese exchange student from the far Northern Island of Hokkaido, looked like a real life anime hero. The son of an Olympic ski jumping champion, Kazu was a handsome guy and women swooned whenever he appeared. He seemed to care little for his natural good looks, however, and dressed in shabby, worn clothes that stunk from the many cheap cigarettes he liked to smoke. Like so many young Japanese men I have met, he was congenial and since we had a common interest in cars we had things to talk about whenever our girlfriends decided we should do things together, but there was no genuine friendship between us.

Over the few weeks we had known one another, Kazu had educated me about the Japanese car scene. He had any number of Japanese car magazines and because I couldn’t read the language he often had to explain the content of the various articles. Sometimes it’s hard to recognize the future when it is staring you in the face and, truth be told, I was a little incredulous at some of the things written in those magazines. Four or five hundred horsepower out of a four cylinder seemed extreme to me, even if it was turbo charged and, what’s more, much of this power was coming through adjustments made on a computer! How could that be? real power required V8 engines, lumpy camshafts and big carbs. I was dubious.

One of the things Kazu was into was called “Dorifuto” and many of the magazines showed pictures of small Japanese cars sliding violently through corners on wet or icy pavement. Being from Hokkaido, an island that spends much if its time under a great deal of snow, Kazu knew all about this and was eager to demonstrate his skills. So, on one rare Seattle snow day, he invited me along for a ride and we headed out into the hills in search of slippery roads.

Highway 2 led us out of Everett and up into the hills where the previous day’s snowfall still lingered on the back roads in the shadows of the tall trees. Despite the recent snowfall, warming weather was having its effect and much of what had only hours before been dangerous compact snow and ice had turned to sloppy slush. Kazu smiled when he saw it though and we charged into the first corner way too hot.

Photo courtesy of

In one swift, smooth motion, Kazu whipped the wheel and with a quick heel to toe movement of his feet pitched the Nissan into the curve. The back end slipped out and the nose of the car pivoted towards the inside ditch. Kazu mashed the gas, found the groove and held the car there on the edge of control as we slipped through the corner. Upon our exit, he straightened the car and raced towards the next curve here he completed the process in the opposite direction. The curves came faster and Kazu continued to navigate them with remarkable skill, the car always on edge but never out of control in his capable hands. The overall feeling from the passenger seat was not one of jerky, violent motion like I had imagined when I had first seen the photos in Kazu’s magazines but was instead smooth, the car pivoting and slipping in a gentle rhythm controlled by the constant steering and pedal inputs the of driver. I was surprised.

The next corner was a blind left hand sweeper cut into a steep hillside, the inside of the curve up against the mountain and the outside of the corner falling steeply away into a deep, brush filled ditch. As we approached, Kazu made his usual motions and the car pivoted again. We dove headlong into the corner, the little Nissan stretched sideways across both lanes as it slid sublimely into the curve.

The car in the opposite lane came as a total surprise. Kazu reacted instantly, grabbed the emergency brake and whipped the wheel. The car responded to the inputs and the front end pivoted back onto the right side of the road a moment before impact and the oncoming car passed by us on the left with just inches to spare. Still sliding, Kazu released the e-brake, whipped the wheel the other direction and punched the gas. The car pivoted back into the corner and resumed its full slide. The whole process took only an instant and the effect was like opening and then closing a door around the other car.

The road straightened and Kazu got back on the gas and set us up for the next corner, but after a couple of more slides it was clear the fun had gone out of the moment. Caution returned and he slowed the car’s speed. At the first turn off, we headed back down towards the valley below and down out of the snow. Later, as usual, we would speak little about the ride but from that point on, whenever I had the opportunity to look at Kazu’s strange magazines, I had a new appreciation for this strange new world I saw reflected in those pictures. It looked like fun. Maybe one day, I thought, car guys in America would do something similar. Maybe one day…

Photo by Thomas Kreutzer

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking. According to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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17 Comments on “Snow Drifting...”

  • avatar

    Wait, I’m confused… didn’t you own a 200SX turbo?

    I would have peed my pants had I been the passenger.

    • 0 avatar

      I bought mine about a decade later. My brief experience with Kazu and this car is one of the reasons I knew what it was when I found it. At the time (around 1992) I had a couple of fast bikes and a Shadow Turbo.

  • avatar

    “The overall feeling from the passenger seat was not one of jerky, violent motion like I had imagined when I had first seen the photos in Kazu’s magazines but was instead smooth, the car pivoting and slipping in a gentle rhythm controlled by the constant steering and pedal inputs the of driver.”

    Precise description. A sweet feeling it is.

  • avatar

    In the old days, before 6 yr old karters and “driver development” programs, a lot of future racers from the Great Lakes area learned to drive in torquey V8 stick shift rwd cars. Learning car control in the winter was great training.

  • avatar

    Oh yes, drifting in the snow is a smooth, sweet feeling!
    If I had ever been stupid at any point in my past, I might be able to relate a story about riding in the bed of a pickup doing similar antics in 18″ of fresh powder. Good thing that never happened as it would have been very unsafe. I can only imagine the feeling of adrenaline combined with huge waves of snow splashing over the sides of the bed and into one’s frozen face – so cold the snow felt dry.

  • avatar

    I used to “drift” cars and other 4 wheeled vehicles in un-plowed, still snow covered, large parking lots in New Jersey back in the mid-1980s.

    However, the activity was not called drifting but “reckless” or at least “unsafe” driving per the local law enforcement. Earned at least one ticket issued under a town ordinance due to this and paid the man.

    In retrospect, I should have fought the ticket since later learned that the property owner (which would not necessarily be the businesses on the parking lot site) should have had a formal release on file with the police allowing them to enforce laws on the property without a call from the owner. Whether the release was on file I never found out but if had not been a release on file, I could have told the issuing authority to pound sand about the ticket…

    I still try to practice this technique in order to know and feel the performance of my vehicles in a light to medium snow but, the Southeast US region were I live now, is pretty devoid of snow during most of the winter.

    • 0 avatar

      Sad that you got a ticket. One night/early AM I was doing big figure 8’s around a pair of light posts in a big empty parking lot. Saw a cruiser nosing into the lot and took off like a scalded rabbit out the other end of the lot. Once I was sure no one was following I (predictably enough) returned to a spot with a view of the scene through a pair of gas station windows only to see the cruiser trying to imitate the maneuver. Worked up my nerve, went back, and made a friend.

  • avatar

    As much as it pains me to expose my Miata to road salt, there is nothing more fun than using the throttle to steer the car just after a fresh snowfall…

  • avatar

    Enjoy the feeling. Undefeatable stability control is a fun killer. A few years ago we had a good winter with snow on the ground for about 5 weeks. My hybrid Altima was absolutely lifeless on snow covered roads. It reused to rotate, slide, etc. Compared to this, my ancient station car was easy to slide and move about with deliberate inputs. After the Altima, if was downright playful. So, enjoy while you can! I suspect that stability control that can be turned off is going to disappear.

  • avatar

    Reminds me of that moment in Initial D when Iketeni (the owner of the lime green S13 Silvia K’s) foolishly asks Takumi (the main character in the AE86 Trueno) for a ride so he can observe and copy Takumi’s technique… only that time Iketeni passed out after 3 hairpin turn drifts!

  • avatar

    As always Thomas ;

    Very well written , it felt like I was riding shotgun .


  • avatar
    Matt W

    I was just browsing on Google image search and I came across the title pic, and thought to my self… Gee, that looks familiar… It’s my car!

    It’s quite fast however, and far from stock these days.

    At the time that pic was taken, it’s an SR20DE with a T25 pushing 15PSI with about 250 wheel horsepower.
    Now it’s got a T3 turbo at 15PSI, giving 300+ HP.
    Still my daily driver year round, though it’s even better now in winter, I have snow tires!

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