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Drifting Ferraris in New Zealand’s snowy mountains

Ferraris aren’t built to drive and maneuver off-road in the snow. But doing so results in an exhilarating and hilarious experience.

It’s not often in life that utter and abject failure is enjoyable, and even less often does it make you laugh uproariously.

It’s possibly even rarer to see this reaction from the kind of people who are massively successful, driven, business-focused and more than comfortably wealthy.

But then pretty much the entirety of the Ferrari Esperienza Queenstown experience was an unusual, almost unbelievable set of events, with almost 100 Prancing Horse enthusiasts driving a collection of supercars, and super-SUVs, on snow and ice at the top of a mountain in New Zealand over a week of high-revving hijinks.

Impossible tasks

Even attempting to drive cars like the new and vast V12-engined Purosangue SUV – so new that almost everyone at the event had ordered one but were facing delivery waits of at least a year – and the overpowered Ferrari 296 GTB around obstacle courses and gymkhanas set up on loose, powdery snow and even slipperier ice, is on the far side of tricky.

Indeed, just trying to get the two-metric-ton Purosangue, with its thumping 533 kilowatts and 716 newton-meters, off the line is a challenge. Even a fairly gentle amount of throttle will simply dig two big holes behind you, while painting the sky in sprays of white flakes.

It looks wonderful from a distance, but it’s not exactly what you’d call forward progress.

There’s something truly fun and irresistibly amusing about spinning around on snow, and even messing up turns out to be hugely enjoyable.

A large part of the problem is that the highly motivating Kiwi driving instructors insisted that we all leave the vehicles’ traction control off completely. This seemed an act of cruelty at first, but led to much hilarity, which meant that everyone’s right foot had to become a carefully calibrated device.

Many of the exercises the assembled enthusiasts were then invited to do involved snap changes of directions around traffic cones, sharp slaloms and even 720-degree turns. That meant putting your fizzing Ferrari into a slide and holding it there – engine screaming, tires slipping – for two complete circles.

Obviously, this is the kind of thing that looks and feels magnificent, and even easy, when you’re in the passenger seat and the instructor is showing you how it’s done. He’s done this before and could probably do it with his eyes closed and one hand behind his back.

Luxury Slalom

Put a Ferrari owner – or a journalist – in the driver’s seat, however, and it doesn’t matter how much track driving or professional instruction they’ve done, things are going to go sideways, and sometimes backward as well.

In theory, this would be embarrassing for the person in the driver’s seat, and more so because you are generally sent out with another customer next to you, so that they get more time to enjoy the glorious, orchestral screaming of the V12 engine as it roars, briefly but quickly, to 8,000 revolutions per minute (at which point your mind can’t help but think of one word: avalanche).

But in actual fact, there’s something truly fun and irresistibly amusing about spinning around on snow, and even messing up turns out to be hugely enjoyable.

What is far better, of course, is when you start to get the hang of it. As the day goes on, you learn that it’s better to steer a car on snow with the throttle than the brake or steering wheel (you do tend to run out of lock very quickly if you try to manage a slalom entirely with your hands), and you begin to string a few perfectly held slides together, and then flick-flack from one to another.

There is something abundantly satisfying about getting this kind of driving right, being able to hold the car in a constant radius circle by flicking the steering wheel and then firing it where you want it with a series of staccato throttle bursts.

driving a red ferrari in the snow

There is something abundantly satisfying about getting this kind of driving right

While the Purosangue’s size and weight make it a tricky beast to wrestle, at least at first, the more powerful yet far lower and lighter Ferrari 296 GTB turns out to be the car you want to set a fast time around the gymkhana course at the end of the day.

Its mid-engined balance – rather than the huge lump of V12 at the front of its big-brother SUV – also makes it far easier to drive, even in the slippiest of conditions.

Truly, the joy and delight on the faces of all assembled on the day that we took part was something to behold. These people – all of whom own garages filled with multiple supercars – take some impressing, and yet all of them were totally blown away by the Esperienza.

As for the Ferrari Purosangue, this was my first chance to drive one (as it was for most of the customers) and I have to say that if it’s this much fun to drive in conditions for which it was clearly not designed, it must be a hell of a thing on sealed roads.

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