Donal MacIntyre on why he prefers Surrey's Little Switzerland to the Austrian Alps
PUBLISHED: 14:41 01 April 2016 | UPDATED: 15:10 01 April 2016
Surrey Life's intrepid columnist Donal MacIntyre on his hair-raising stint competing in Channel 4's The Jump - and why he prefers Surrey's Little Switzerland to the Austrian Alps...
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine March 2016
A BBC executive once told me with all sincerity that I was only any good when my life was under “severe threat” and that was my attraction for audiences. A programme proposal called Mac Must Die, which thrust me into the jaws of death, thankfully did not get commissioned but my television brushes with death did not stop there. Most recently, in 2014, there was Channel Four’s The Jump, which preposterously took some ropey skiers and some beginners, including my good self, out to the Austrian slopes to follow in the fine footsteps of Eddie the Eagle Edwards.
True to form, Ski Sunday presenter Graham Bell got my measure on the slopes very quickly and it appeared that this leopard could not change his spots. “MacIntyre appears to be a willing crash-test dummy with a complete disregard for his own safety.” A fitting epitaph, I thought, although if I was going to die, I wouldn’t have wanted to go out dressed in an ill-fitting pink ski suit with a bowl helmet on – looking for all the world like a walking roll-on deodorant.
The winter sports show has an alarmingly high casualty rate, but the only blood injury for us came when Sir Steven Redgrave was giving me lessons on how to row on a rusty old rowing machine in a run-down Austrian ski lodge. It was his only blood injury ever related to rowing. That was a triumph of sorts for me. In all seriousness, few people realise that Sir Steve was very nearly manager of the Irish bobsleigh team – and indeed nearly went to the Olympic games as part of the UK bobsleigh crew.
As for me, far too many people saw me fail to jump into the bobsleigh in my tumultuous stint on the show. Having put in a big heave and a ho, and run with all the power my squat little pins could muster, all I had to do was jump in and let the driver take me down the track. Unfortunately, though, my timing was a little off and the bob was going quicker than I was and, try as I might, I couldn’t jump in. The upshot was that the bob dragged me down the old Olympic track, but I wasn’t in it, so eventually I had to do the walk of shame back to the start.
Now winter sports aren’t something that you would normally associate with Surrey, even though we have our Little Switzerland and other appropriate name places in the county. However, there are a surprising number available here.
For example, during my more successful winter sojourns, I have been lucky enough to experience the joys of the Sandown Sports Club and Ski Centre, at the back of the racecourse, in Esher. For beginners and for children’s parties, it is a first step before the real thing. They have a Saturday morning club for kids and you can book individual lessons there too. It’s on your doorstep and worth a trip all year-round (see sandownsports.co.uk/ski).
Another place well worth a visit is the Guildford Ski Slope where you can try out snowboarding and donuts on the matted ski slope. With all the equipment provided, it can help rusty skiers return to their best or set beginners on their way. And that’s all year-round too (see guildfordskislope.co.uk). Then, just nearby you have the Guildford Spectrum, too, the destination of choice for those wanting to get their skates on and take to the ice (see guildfordspectrum.co.uk).
And finally, no snow, granted, but there’s a lot of fun to be had mountain-boarding on the slopes of Priory Farm in Nutfield, near Redhill, careering down the hill in the manner of a snowboarder on wheels (see ridethehill.com).
There are, I hasten to add, no bobsleigh runs at any of the above – or, even for the brave, no indoor rowing machines. Sir Steven will be pleased.