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Can you turn a Ferrari into a ski lift?

  1. If Eskimos really do have 50 words for snow, they probably have one to describe the stuff in which our Ferrari is currently stuck. Somewhere between a slush puppy and mashed potato, it was never going to support nearly two tonnes of Italian supercar. Even if that supercar has 4WD and groovy winter tyres. A harder crust would have helped. But last night’s frost wasn’t very frosty, and the piste is melting. And now we’re up to our wheelnuts in white mush with a gathering audience and no means of escape.

    This was supposed to be a story about driving up a ski slope. Because while some Ferraris are built for showing off, the FF has a more useful job. It has four seats and a decent boot. Its 651bhp is split between all four wheels. Add a set of roof bars - check out our blow-up rack - and it will even carry a set of skis. This means it’s ideal for ferrying people up a mountain during the busiest month of the Scottish ski season (yes, it has one). Beats waiting for the chair lift, eh?

    At least, that was the idea. But it doesn’t matter what traction trickery you have - if the surface is soft and the snow deep, you need tank tracks, not tyres. Even the Land Rover sent to tow us out has sunk. So we borrow some men - men who’ve tossed their fair share of cabers - to push us out. After much slipping and several heaves, the FF is back on firmish ground. It might be a fancy supercar, but it’s a rubbish sledge.

    Pictures: Justin Leighton

    This feature first appeared in Top Gear magazine

  2. The Glenshee Ski Centre is on the eastern edge of the Highlands. To reach it, you must ascend the Cairnwell Pass, which happens to be the highest main road in Britain. Originally a route over the Cairngorms for cattle drovers, the old road has now been mostly replaced, but in places still runs parallel to the new one. From the belly of the valley, it twists up to the top, a single ribbon of black top just a touch narrower than our FF.

    The Ferrari brushes the grassy verges, tyres throwing up clods of earth. There might be a pair of clutches waiting to route power to the front wheels, but right now they’re resting. The road is greasy and puddled, but the FF feels rock steady, its 6.2-litre V12 feeding gulps of torque chiefly to the rear wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. The steering is so highly geared, I barely move my wrists, and the slightest flick sends the long bonnet where you want it to go.

  3. Up we go, crossing rivers of meltwater coming off the hills. Loose scree has tumbled across the road, and a few days ago an avalanche slid down a mountain not far from here. Around here, if it’s not tied down or rooted firmly to the earth, it will be flushed away. Today the hills wear snowcaps, but in a month or so those will disappear, leaving giant bald spots on every summit.

    The old road has taken much punishment over the years, and the surface has broken into stony marbles. Patches of ice add to the thrills. So while my colleague Mr Barlow, bless him, enjoys smooth roads and warm Italian sunshine in his 458 Speciale (see p126), I remain one move away from plungey death. But here’s the thing about the FF - after a while, you forget it’s a £230k Ferrari. Yes, it’s a posh diva, but it doesn’t mind dirty work.

  4. With the traction control on, its computers know when you’re being foolish, and will a) send a more appropriate dose of power to the wheels, or b) get the front axle to help out. Or both. So when I try an ambitious prod of the throttle around an especially slippery corner, it vetoes my right foot. In Ice, Wet or Comfort modes, it’s almost too sensible. Better to leave it in Sport, where it allows a few wriggles before intervening.

    And, my goodness, it’s quick. Even when the surface is covered in the sort of muck usually found at the bottom of an iced coffee, it fires up the road as if it were bone dry. At lower revs, the exhausts enjoy a dirty laugh, before the engine takes over with a psycho scream. In Sport mode, upshifts are vigorous, and downshifts will convince local wildlife it’s hunting season. It probably is. Haven’t seen many stags around. But then again, they’ll have sniffed out photographer Leighton’s cigarettes a mile off.

  5. As we climb higher, drizzle wets the windscreen. This means I must fathom the buttons on the steering wheel, one of which has a wiper symbol. After several hours of poking, pulling and accidental indication, the rain is being slapped away. The tartan hillside turns grey and rocky, and the roadside is lined with stubborn clumps of ice. Soon the drizzle freezes, and snowflakes fall silently onto the screen.

    Out of the blizzard comes a logging truck. The old road has rejoined the new one, which is apparently used to haul timber at extraordinary speed. Top marks to this guy, who even manages a little trailer drift on his way out of the corner.

  6. The sky, previously as grey as the FF’s paint, is now white. At 2,312 feet, Glenshee isn’t as lofty as most European resorts, but it’s still in the clouds. And unlike the Alps, the Cairngorms aren’t pointy. Instead they resemble dumpy puddings, with rounded tops from which the icing dribbles down. It’s on one of these summits where the road finally plateaus, and if you want to go higher - as I realise when my wheels churn helplessly in the deep snow - you’ll need some skis.

    Parked at the foot of the pistes, at least the FF provides excellent shelter. Wind funnels up the valley, finding its way up every cuff and down every collar. Of all the places in the world to voluntarily wear a man-skirt, this is perhaps the most unlikely. But this is Braveheart country, and the locals are tough. Told of our plans to turn the FF into a 651bhp ski-lift, one chap gives a knowing nod. “Aye,” he says. “We’ve had a Vectra up there. Got stuck in the moguls. Drink was involved.”

  7. He points to a green shed, from which pokes a huge snowplough. “What ye really need is one of those,” he says. The plough, it turns out, is attached to the front of a PistenBully 600. For those of you unfamiliar with the world of snow grooming, the 600 is the Ferrari of piste bashers. Like the Ferrari, it costs a quarter of a million quid. Unlike the Ferrari, it has a 12.8-litre straight-six diesel made by Mercedes. And with 1,620lb ft of torque, it out-grunts the FF by two and a half to one. Most importantly, it has a set of steel tracks that spread its 12-tonne weight over the soft snow.

    Last night, it combed the slopes, creating a nice smooth surface in preparation for our climb. If the crust hadn’t melted, we might have made it. No matter. While some supercars would’ve headed for a garage ages ago, the FF puts its wellies on. People have said it’s not a proper Ferrari. But while their ‘proper’ Ferraris keep warm at home, this one has brought me here. Parked among the battered Discoveries and Foresters in the Glenshee car park, it looks proper enough to me. Now, if someone could pass me a shovel, we’ll be off…

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