Zen and the art of ice driving in Aston Martins
Ice, Ice baby!
Buro 24/7 Culturemaker Noelle Faulkner joins 007 drift school for a weekend, and learns a life lesson or two
It was late afternoon on a snowy, Queenstown mountaintop, where the penny dropped. Not the place you'd normally find an Aston Martin fleet, but here I was, hands gripped around an devastatingly gorgeous, caramel leather-wrapped and wing-stamped steering wheel; my studded snow tyres spurting an arc of snow behind me, the rear of my Aston Martin DB11 wildly dancing and around at an angle as if were performing a clash of vogue and ballet dance, the 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 erupting with a throaty roar All the while, the instructor's words repeat themselves in my head; "balance your throttle", "know where you're going" and "if you stare into the snowbank, that's where you'll end up".. losing control to gain it back? Snow drifting is the perfect metaphor for life.
Flashes of adrenaline can do wonderful things: sharpen the vision, heighten our sense of experience, momentarily flex our muscles and induce crystal clarity of cognitive focus. That stab of fuel can kick us into gear when we need it the most, and for some, the right type of adrenaline can act as a sort of therapy, an outlet of steam, a wake up call from monotony and the void of daily life; encourage a change of direction. Aston Martin calls its adventure-lifestyle leg "Art of Living". And aptly so, because what is living if it isn't the very definition of testing your ability to deal with sharp turns thrown at you? Of course, on the same page, "living" may also be spending three days flexing that metaphor in a more literal and supremely stylish sense: pushing the full Aston Martin range of luxury cars to their limits across a New Zealand mountain, 1965m above sea level...
If you've ever dreamed of joining the James Bond Car Club (not its official name FYI) or even if you're already part of the Aston Martin family, then the British luxury brand's On Ice program is the coolest way to do it, pun intended. In a very Bond-ish way, Aston Martin On Ice is three days of travel, social, lifestyle, adventure and adrenaline-activating activities. It takes place at the hidden Snow Farm in New Zealand, also known as the Southern Hemisphere Proving Ground, an icy mountain peak test area used by global car manufacturers, tyre and snow-related companies for cold-weather assessment (you might catch a glance of a camouflaged prototype or two if you're lucky).
The three days consist of a social meet and greet, a day of lifestyle/adventure events (choose from snowboarding, skiing, canyon swinging, skydiving, jet boating, horse riding, golf, a local arts and culture tour or hit the incredible, award-winning spa at the Millbrook Resort, the On Ice accommodation) and, the big exhale: an exhilarating day of drifting a DB11, Vantage V8, two Rapide S and the Vanquish in both incarnations (regular and model S) through sub-zero temperatures. Again - a rare sight to see and I cannot imagine many Aston Martin owners willing to put their own car through this themselves... This year, Aston Martin has added a Japanese version of the event, Hokkaido On Ice, which will offer one of the very first Art of Living drives in the new DB11 Volante convertible GT (top down on ice, because, why not?).
Taking part in high-speed ice driving, with all the flinging and whizzing and sliding with naturally aspirated or turbocharged fury, consider your first-world problems relegated to the back of your skull. Drifting itself refers to oversteering into and throughout an entire turn. The way it works is the vehicle's power outshines tyre traction, causing the rear wheels to slip at a greater angle than the front wheels -now, imagine that when you've got 700Nm of torque and 447kW at your toes with not much to grip onto. The numbers are pointless, actually, despite the wag of your tachometer playing bungee. Everything spins, and slips and dances; the ice doesn't discriminate.
Throughout the day, we're pushing our driving skills to the limit on this icy playground via diverse exercises: understeering and oversteering, slalom, grid slalom and a slalom around huge ring of ice. We're dog-boning and figure 8-ing and 360-ing, the grand final, putting it altogether in a wonderful dance of electronic stability control-less gymkhana.
But unlike doing all this on a track - you can't predict the surface ahead of you. All it takes is a ray of that sparkly New Zealand light to warm up a patch of ice, a hit of chilling wind to freeze it over, or the person ahead of you to rip up the snow, and everything changes. There's no time for bravado. A point and shoot situation, this is not, and soon the iron footed (me), who boulder into the slalom (me), throw the wheel into turns and stab the throttle to death (also me) are learning powerful lessons: be cool or you'll spin out. I find myself meditating to the instructor's voice, blasted through a walkie-talkie in my centre console. Plan ahead. Think fast. Act smooth. Practice restraint. Control your output. Don't brake too hard. Work with the tools. Entry is everything. Exit will happen. Rinse and repeat. A beautiful and almost effortless ballet of Zen movements, to the ohm of a combined sixty-something cylinders.
For an Aston Martin lover or enthusiast, this is one of the purest ways to get to know, fall in love or fall back in love with these cars (without using your actual car), you'll find tiny shifts in powertrains, weight and momentum achingly obvious, pointiness of the steering will mean more than it does on your daily drive and the engine will purr as you're hitting higher revs with fewer consequences than a track. It'll invoke a rekindling of that long-term romance, like seeing your lover in a different light and suddenly falling in love with them all over again. It's a thrill ride that takes the breath away in the sumptuousness of the automobiles, the exquisitely designed cabins and refined engineering at hand; but also, the sheer requirement of a full cognitive frame of mind, cool sense of restraint, sultry-handed steering and, of course, a lust for adrenaline. Then when it's over, it's back to the lodge for vodka martinis. Icily stirred for me...
Aston Martin Hokkaido On Ice will run 8-12 February 2018; for more information on New Zealand On Ice and Aston Martin Art of Living Experiences, visit astonmartinartofliving.com
**Noelle Faulkner was a guest of Aston Martin at New Zealand On Ice.
Buro 24/7 Selection
Buro 24/7 Selection