In northern Italy, the border with Switzerland wraps together like intertwined fingers. The resort town of Livigno lies in a valley on the Italian side of the tall mountain peaks that bisect the two countries. In the winter, everything is covered in white and guests alternate between chilly ski runs and warm chalet fireplaces.
The Italian town of Sant’Agata Bolognese lies about five hours by car to the south of Livigno. The Lamborghini workshops in town build cars found screaming around the racing circuit at Monza, cruising the California coastline, or soaking up attention along the French Riviera. Each winter, however, the Lamborghini team gathers a fleet of supercars from their garage, packs plenty of warm clothes into the back of Urus SUV support vehicles, and heads north to Livigno to drive on the ice.
In February, Speed Journal Principal Jeff Francis met them in Livigno to see what the Lamborghini Esperienza Accademia Neve had in store.
Lamborghini staff welcomed guests at the Hotel Lac Salin Spa and Mountain Resort. Guests were outfitted with branded scarves, beanies, and insulated shirts to protect them from the February freeze. Lamborghini staff helped guests load an intuitive app for their phones to keep them up to speed on all things Lamborghini.
Several Urus Performante SUVs shuttled the group to meet Snow Cats for the climb uphill to welcome drinks and dinner. The Camanei di Planon is a well-appointed refuge for skiers and hikers situated over 540 meters in altitude above the Livigno valley floor. As they offloaded from the Snow Cats, a Huracán Sterrato spinning donuts in the snow welcomed them, setting just the right tone for the event.
The lovely evening filled with Italian food and wine gave everyone a chance to meet. Driving coaches and guests mingled, united by the common bond of great cars and driving experiences. Guests naturally were curious and prodded Lamborghini driving coaches to share stories of their racing adventures and development driving. The group packed into the Snow Cats for the return trip back down the hill where the dutiful fleet of Urus SUVs shuttled them back to the hotel.
After the morning sun overcame the darkness, it was time to drive. A short briefing at the hotel about driving technique and what to expect for the day included aerial videos of brightly colored Lamborghinis sailing across the icy white surface against a snowy white backdrop. It didn’t take much for guests to imagine they would be doing the same thing shortly.
The Urus SUV shuttled the sixteen guests and eight instructors to the nearby ice driving course. Each year, a roadside meadow is flooded and groomed to transform it into a driving playground. The main event is a handling loop that snakes left and right, tied together with a tight hairpin at one end and a wide sweeping half moon on the other end. A wide open skidpad at one end adds more space for driving drills. An elongated smooth surface for slaloms and other drills is situated at the opposite end.
The only concession to the elements for the Lamborghinis was the addition of studded tires to bite into the slippery surface. For those without prior winter driving experience, the slick surface required a whole different mindset. The steering wheel and throttle become tied together and wrangling big performance cars across the ice in a four-wheel drift requires managing both.
Francis started on the handling circuit at the controls of a Urus Performante. A few initial laps with stability control activated was the only time any electronic helpers were used for the two-day event. The challenging circuit hid many of its secrets. Surface variations of softer snow, rock hard ice, bumps and elevation changes blended into the monochromatic color palette. High snow banks threatened to grab unwary drivers and pull them into the fluffy white piles. Spins into the snow banks were a common and expected part of the learning process and the rescue team quickly recovered buried cars and got them back on course. In the real world, stone outcroppings and metal guardrails are unforgiving, so the Livigno obstacle course provided a safer venue to test the limits of traction.
SUV roots at Lamborghini date back to the 1977 Cheetah off-road prototype intended for military use that arguably paved the way for the famous Humvee. A single LM001 prototype followed in 1981 before the well-known LM002 was produced in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The LM002 was equipped with a proper V-12 engine taken directly from the Countach sportscar. If Lamborghini was going to make an off-roader, it had to be big and brash. Only 328 units of the LM002 were produced and it still turns heads at any car show.
Lamborghini is proud of the Urus Performante and says it has “The soul of a super car and the functionality of an SUV.” Nice for an advertising tagline, but does the Urus uphold the honor of the Lamborghini raging bull badge on its nose? To prove its mettle, Lamborghini threw the Urus against the Pikes Peak mountain in August 2022 and came away with an SUV record run. Pirelli test driver Simone Faggioli set a time of 10:32.064, a mark faster than most cars.
The twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 gives the all-wheel drive Urus its muscle. Rally mode softens the suspension to better handle bumps and dips. (Rally is one of four driving modes for the Urus. Strada mode is for everyday driving. Sport gives faster throttle response and more adaptive rear-wheel steering. Corsa focuses on stability at higher speed.) The all-wheel drive system maintains a bias towards the rear, but sends torque to the front wheels as needed.
As guests quickly found out, hustling the Urus around the tight and icy hairpin was a delight. The front tires clawed for traction as the rear wagged and skipped across the ice. Proper technique required a juke at the wheel entering the corner to get the rear moving around the tight apex. Too much power produced a spin while too little power produced understeer and the front end plowed toward the outside of the turn. With good instruction and plenty of seat time, the hairpin came together and showed the Urus to be a capable dance partner.
Just when Francis was getting used to the all-wheel drive SUV, it was time to switch to a rear wheel drive Huracán Tecnica. The contrast was considerable. With no drive at the front wheels, it took more throttle finesse to slide the supercar gracefully through the corners. Throttle response was quicker and more sensitive with the Tecnica than the Urus but it wasn’t all about smashing the throttle and holding on. The driver needed to keep the steering wheel and rear tires working together.
Next was a Huracán EVO all-wheel drive spyder. Usually, a drop top Lamborghini produces thrills with sunshine and wind in the hair, but the chilly temperatures kept the spyder top up and the all-wheel drive took center stage. The mix of power, performance and control was mind-bending. The car made its driver feel like a superhero with its ability to drift sideways with outlandish oversteer at impossible angles – and still make the corner without spinning.
Guests pushed through the handling course with more consistency, linking corners together and throwing their mounts to the left and right, holding the slide before twisting the wheel and modulating the throttle to create the desired pendulum effect. Drivers learned to manage the weight as an ally to get around the corners and stay on course.
Many guests had a Lamborghini or two in their personal garages at home, but being able to sling different cars around a frozen obstacle course was something completely different. Each Lamborghini model provided its own unique experience and guests found favorites with each session.
Four cars at a time circulated around the handling course. All moved at different paces and instructors spotted by radio, advising drivers when to pass or be passed. Icy surfaces accentuated and exaggerated mistakes, but the moving ballet allowed everyone to drive at their own pace and learn under the watchful eye of experienced instructors.
Lamborghini factory racing drivers like Pietro Perolini spend most of their season on tracks like Imola and Spa Francorchamps competing for trophies but are detailed to other Lamborghini events throughout the year. When winter comes, they head to the Italian Alps for ice driving. Instructors made the event come alive and armed guests with skills to tackle the unforgiving ice. Their wisdom, enthusiasm and patience ensured that guests got as much as possible out of their time in the Italian Alps. Each instructor looked after two guests – an unrivaled instructor to guest ratio for driving schools and experiences. Jonathon Cecotto coached Francis and another guest during the two days. All the instructors were accomplished racing drivers currently racing under the Lamborghini umbrella. Jonathon’s racing roots run deep as his father was an F1 driver in the 1980s and Jonathon currently races in the Italian GT3 Championship.
Not everyone who knows how to drive can teach others how to drive. It is an art to adapt to each student and figure out what they need, how they learn, and what instruction and feedback is helpful. Cecotto was a natural, providing helpful instruction when necessary. On occasion between runs, he drew diagrams to help illustrate the pendulum weight transfer principles and optimal transition points to navigate the corners.
After working on the handling course, the large circular skid pad and the STO was up next. The rear-wheel-drive Huracán Super Trofeo Omologata sits atop the Huracan line. Aggressive aerodynamic styling makes its high-performance intentions clear. With bright lime green pearl and orange colors, the pair of STO models stood no chance of getting lost in the surrounding white snow banks.
The exercise was simple – maintain a steady drift for the full circle. Drivers first tried clockwise which required looking through the driver’s side window and then changed to counterclockwise and shifted to look across the dash and through the passenger window. A mix of continual adjustments to steering wheel and throttle kept the STO on the edge.
At slower speeds in a tighter circle, drivers hustled the STO around in first gear. Second gear, faster speeds, and wider circles came with more comfort. As with driving in a road course, drifting in a circle required keeping the eyes up and looking ahead through the corner to where you want to go. When all the elements came together, car and driver worked together to make magic.
After a busy morning, the instructors gathered the group into the Urus shuttles and headed to Agriturismo La Tresenda for a fine Italian lunch. The owner’s llama made a guest appearance which was a treat for those that had never been so close to a llama. Like the Lamborghinis on the ice, the llama soaked up the attention.
While the driving was undoubtedly the highlight, breaks between sessions allowed a chance to take in the surroundings. A heated chalet trackside was stocked with drinks and snacks. It was easy to see why the Alps are a destination for visitors from across the globe.
A figure eight exercise around pylons in the Urus brought back the skills from earlier in the day. Drivers focused on controlling the slide and setting up for the next transition, being smooth and linking together both ends of the figure eight. Like building blocks, guests drifted around one curve, then linked two together and then gradually linked more and more together. The Urus was incredibly user friendly. It was easy to forget that it was all happening with a 5200-pound SUV. Guests took turns for ride alongs in the back seat to enjoy the action and watch how others drove. Plenty of smiles and laughter and cell phone videos proved that this was serious fun.
The first day ended by refining the basic skills. Guests climbed aboard the STOs that were set up to record video and telemetry. The goal was to find smoothness. Taking the drama out of drifting is the car control secret sauce. Overworking the steering wheel and throttle puts the car in positions that require even more drama to recover. The intoxicating soundtrack from the naturally aspirated V-10 sitting just behind the driver was a continual reminder of how much or little throttle the STO pumped through its rear wheels.
As they day grew long and the sunshine slipped away behind the mountains, temperatures dropped and the track became slicker which provided new challenges and surprises. The day ended with a challenge between the guests on course designed to highlight the skills learned throughout the day. A stopwatch kept score and low times required finesse, patience and car control. Winners earned collectible Lamborghini scale models for their success.
As the group adjourned for dinner at hotel Lac Salin with instructors, drivers and guests, ground crews groomed the course for the next day. Each night the course gets attention and every few days the course is modified to work around bumps and ruts that develop.
Four Huracáns lined up to take on the handling circuit to start the second day. The echoes of the engines bounced off the nearby mountain sides and the colors popped against the white backdrop. Drivers took various Huracan models for laps on the fresh surface. Becoming more comfortable with the rear-wheel-drive beasts, they were able to better enjoy throwing the exotic supercars around the ice.
The Urus re-assumed the spotlight for what instructors called the “007 maneuver.” Imagine a snowy alpine scene where James Bond is being chased by the bad guys. By driving towards a cone and spinning a tight 360 around the cone, Bond gives the chasers a taste of his machine guns, completes the donut, and escapes out the other side.
It was a fun challenge to enter and then hold a tight slide and maintain control for a successful exit at precisely the right angle. Instructors continued to guide as skills improved. Jonathon helped Francis to think ahead and set the right entry point to make the exit work.
After another session in an EVO all-wheel drive spyder led to an exercise called Top Gun. From a standstill, drivers accelerated and threw their cars into a wide sweeping 180-degree drift around a coned path and held as much angle as possible while shooting through an opening of two cones. The car control exercise emphasized being able to hang the tail out as far as possible while also keeping that angle pointed at a particular spot.
The all-wheel drive Huracan again showed its strength, allowing drivers to get completely out of shape but somehow save the slide. The heavier Urus was more challenging and required the driver to pay attention to driving lines to avoid missing the cones at the exit. When the driver nailed it, however, the howl of the Urus engine for that last push across the line put a smile on their face.
Instructors took the wheel for the grand finale. Jonathan jumped in the all-wheel drive EVO with Francis in the passenger seat for hot laps. After Francis wrestled with the steering wheel for two days, the lack of drama in Jonathan’s driving style stood out. Joanathan’s touch was exquisite. He only needed minimal steering input to get the pendulum effect working and he smoothy connected corners in one long drift at higher speed rather than short disconnected spurts. To exhibit car control and placement, he also took radically different lines through corners and put the rear wheels at the extreme edges, just kissing the soft snow where no others dared tread. The ease was impressive and showed what the Lamborghinis were truly capable of in the right hands.
This experience gave a new perspective on Lamborghini as a performance marque. Ice isn’t the usual habitat for low slung supercars but when studded tires are added, the Lamborghinis were remarkable. The Urus only adds to its off-road credentials when given the chance.
Lamborghini Esperienza Accademia Neve was an enthralling way to enjoy amazing cars in an amazing location in an amazing way. The euphoria when holding a steady drift with the rear smoothly sliding from left to right was unforgettable. Beyond sheer fun, guests also learned about driving skills in low grip situations and owners became more familiar with the machines waiting for them at home. Whether you’re an owner or just a fan looking to get more immersed in what makes Lamborghini special, consider spending a few days in February on the ice with the raging bulls.
The Speed Journal would like to thank Lamborghini and the Esperienza Neve Team for their hospitality and a memorable experience. Special thanks to Lamborghini San Diego.
Travel Tip: Husky Village is a must add on when driving with Lamborghini in Livigno. Piloting a dog sled across the snow pulled by trained huskies barking with enthusiasm is a novel and unique experience and only enhances driving supercars on ice.