Once, a car was only useful for getting you to your holiday. Now the car is the destination as car companies begin to create their own theme parks — such as Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi and Volkswagen’s Autostadt in Wolfsburg — and start holding performance driving events for members of the public. One of the latter is BMW’s Alpine xDrive Experience, held recently in the New Zealand Alps near Queenstown.
The xDrive Experience is best described as a new kind of ultra-adrenaline holiday for people who love cars — where you get to drift high performance road cars in the snow and ice on a series of white-knuckle tracks. Our lucky test driver for this story (and Fitness First mag creative director), Gino Campagnaro, described it as “the best experience of my life after my wedding!”
You don’t have to be a BMW owner to go. Anyone can sign up to drift BMWs on several types of courses in the snow-and-ice testing ground at the Cardrona Snow Fields. The fee of $3,100 includes two nights accommodation at a luxury resort, plus helicopter transfers to the testing ground.
We sent our self-professed revhead Gino to try it out, and it’s fair to say he tested his own limits rather than those of the cars he drove at the Southern Hemisphere Proving Ground.
After landing in Queenstown, he was taken from the airport to the five star Millbrook Resort for dinner and a pre-event briefing.
“We had an hour to settle in and then met for a welcome and briefing at dinner,” Gino says. “Then they turned down the lights, gave us a beer and got us excited with a sizzler video of the fantastic drives at the testing track.”
The next morning he was picked up at 6.30am and taken by helicopter to the testing grounds high up on the Cardrona Snow Fields. The proving grounds are the only ones in the southern hemisphere, and the only ones in the world to have both snow and dry tracks in pretty much the same place (the dry ones are the foot of the mountain). This is unheard of in Europe, where snow on a test track means there is snow everywhere else.
Gino got to drive on four different kinds of track at the grounds. The first was a ride and handling track on which he did a snow drive. Next, BMW used the ice flat for a slow speed slalom (essentially taking the BMWs and their drivers ice skating).
After lunch he spent time at the snow circle to practise oversteer and understeer, including doing a figure eight drift. The last exercise was at a flat snow workshop area to test sprints, braking and timed slaloms. German instructors showed the car-driving guests how to perform each manoeuvre.
“We all followed each other and it was very organised,” says Gino. “In each car was a walkie-talkie and the instructor was at front, talking to everyone. In each car the occupants — normally a couple of people but up to four in the media cars — were rotated to all have a go at the driving.”
Participants could drive various types of BMWs, although Campagnaro seemed to stick with a big X5 SUV and an X6 Crossover, which were heavier than the other smaller BMW sedans and slid around more on the compact snow and ice.
After a day of flinging cars around, Gino and the other drivers made a short stopover at the historic Cardrona Hotel before heading back to the Millbrook Resort for dinner and departure the next morning.
“It’s a dream,” says Gino. “It’s in the snow, it’s driving fast cars, it’s exciting. The adrenaline is pumping. I don’t know what more you’d want.”
BMW Australia hosts the Alpine xDrive experience annually. Readers can register their interest in the next event by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org