Monday 22 January 2018

One Bentley Continental, two skis and three crazy foreigners

Bentley has taken a one-horsepower winter sport and added a lot more. Kyle Fortune hung on for dear life

Superformed panels make up the Bentley Continental GT's body. It's a clever manufacturing process, one that few car manufacturers use, which allowed the English firm to reshape the big GT into the sharper-looking car it is today. I'm doing everything I can to stop myself from creating a 'superskier'-shaped dent in the Bentley's boot lid.

My 'controls' are finished in leather and wood, but unlike those materials lovingly handcrafted inside the car, mine are a bit more rudimentary. They're reins, really, as I'm skijoring, a sport (isn't it funny the stupidity that passes for sport?) that sees a skier towed behind a horse. Only my horse is a Bentley Continental GT, and I've no control over it.

Actually, that's not entirely true; Steve and Tim, Bentley's supremely experienced driving consultants and all round decent chaps, admit that when the car was sliding out of a bend they could feel my weight helping to correct the slide, depending on the direction I skied in. I can only imagine what the electronic stability systems are trying to compute, but it's rather good fun.

Too much snow. You'd think that a ski-based sport would never have any problem with the white stuff, but the track we were meant to use has too deep a layer of fluffy white covering to be of much use today. Sure, the Bentley has got four-wheel drive and winter rubber of decent width, but it's heavy and four driven wheels are no use if it's sitting up to its undersides in snow.

In the best spirit of the adventurous Bentley Boys, there's no stopping us. A number of Bentleys commandeer a car park just down the road from the skijoring track in the Rougemont Village, Switzerland, where skijoring is thought to have originated. We're not being completely irresponsible either, as the local police force come along to watch the spectacle -- and bring their speed guns along for good measure.

Local legend and skijoring royalty is here, too. With 16 championships and 27 years of experience, Franco Moro is the man to talk to about this silliness. Sporting handsome ski instructor looks and the usual ski instructor efficiency of words, his advice is simple: "Hold on tight." I ask him what the black fabric between the skijoring reins is for. I joke that it looks to me rather like the body bags the ski patrol bring injured people off the mountain in. Franco suggests it's actually for reducing the snow kicked up by the horse.

It doesn't do much behind a Bentley. Having clicked into a pair of skis, I get a face full of slush and grit at the first corner and thank the lord of Gore-Tex for keeping me dry. The skis I'm on are by zai, Bentley's official partner. Sensibly they're not zai's Bentley Supersports skis, as at €7,500 they're a cheap Bentley but a heinously expensive ski. Like the cars it's all in the detail, as each ski is hand-built from the finest materials possible. Too good for being wrecked on a gritty, bumpy and slushy car park then, so instead zai's representative digs an old pair of test skis out that they're happy to bin after our foolishness.

Skiing since I was only as high as the wing mirror on the Continental GT, there's little I've done on skis that has worried me so much. Gravity is usually the motive force, but here it's supplemented by 575 horses provided by a turbocharged 6.0-litre 12-cylinder engine. So the balance point is entirely different, the pull coming from my upper body and arms -- which quickly ache after a few laps of the car park.

It's unusual, but incredibly good fun; what's surprising is not how quickly the Bentley can accelerate, but how effectively it brakes. If you see the red lights illuminate it's almost too late, so my reactions need to be quick to get on the ski's edges to slow them down. After a few corners I'm anticipating turns in time, weaving out to the side of the car before accelerating through as the reins tighten. Fun but tiring -- and limited, given the size of the space we're on.

Keen for more speed (the Swiss police's radar only registering about 40km/h max here), we head up the valley in search of a longer stretch of snow-covered road. We find something suitable crossing a slope, long enough to get a decent speed up and with a full covering of snow to enable it to be skied on.

Franco Moro has handsome ski instructor looks and an admirable efficiency of words. His advice is simple: 'Hold on tight'

Mindful of the greater opportunity for speed I take Franco's advice a bit more seriously, and Tim accelerates the car quickly up to 70km/h. Slowing down from that takes a great deal more anticipation and I arrange a pre-braking hand signal for the next run. More speed and bigger grins ensue, though the locals are getting a bit worried about these crazy foreigners skiing behind cars on their roads.

So the fun is cut short, the car and the skier are undamaged and we leave for the bar. Not without the promise of another skijoring adventure, though. Speaking later that evening, Bentley's people ask me how fast I'd be prepared to go. Not without a little bit of bar bravado, I suggest as fast as they dare. That might come back to bite me some day, as not only does Bentley have form for snowy, icy speed records, but a quick check afterwards uncovers some nutcase back in the Fifties managed 175km/h being towed behind a plane. Thankfully the only wings on the Bentley are on its bonnet badge, though it would be almost impossible to make a skier-shaped dent in the back of a plane. Wouldn't it?

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