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My first boss: Graham Bell, Ski Sunday presenter

Graham Bell retired from professional skiing in 1998 and is now a presenter with BBC Sport. Photo: Getty Images
Graham Bell retired from professional skiing in 1998 and is now a presenter with BBC Sport. Photo: Getty Images

Graham Bell, 56, is a British Olympic skier, TV presenter, adventurer and journalist.

The five-time Olympian has remained at the forefront of British sport since his retirement in the late 90s, commentating on the Winter Olympics and fronting the BBC's Ski Sunday programme, which starts again on 8 January.

Hans Kuwall was head of ski school training at Hillend in Edinburgh and was particularly tough and strict. That’s the way he had been brought up and his mentality was that if we were to compete with the Austrians and Swiss, we had to train as hard, if not harder than them.

I was aged five and my brother one year older, when I first skied in Scotland. It was a holiday experience and you don't really understand the competitive drive until you get a little bit older.

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It was when I was eight or nine that it started to kick in. We had moved to Edinburgh and had a lot of input into our skiing from different sources. Training at Aviemore on weekends whenever possible, we would take our caravan at the start of the winter and park at Glenmore Lodge and be up and down very quickly.

We also had Hillend dry slope, the biggest one in the UK, and train there every Thursday night, led by Hans, who had come over from Austria when skiing was first picked up in Scotland in the 1960s.

Hillend Ski Slope Edinburgh
Hillend dry ski slope in Edinburgh. Photo: PA

If you were skiing lazily, you would be given short swings as a punishment. This was a technical and tiring drill, with 500 short swings down a slope and getting out of breath. Aged nine to 14 were the formative years of setting that level of discipline. You did it and got shouted at but I thrived off it and loved the style of coaching Hans instilled.

We had a good unit of trainees who were driven under Hans. It’s hard nowadays to have that kind of discipline and the coach could be accused of bullying. But if I hadn't passed the fitness test then I wouldn't have got to the top level.

I was selected to the Scotland junior team aged 14 and the Great Britain team at 16. When there were selections, if you didn’t train or make the results then the fears were of being cut from the team. Every day you’re not training, someone else is.

There are a lot of life skills I learned when skiing. It’s not about ski racing but also leadership skills in the mountains. It’s ingrained into everyone. You look after a group of other people and you have to find a way of getting everyone off the mountain. It’s almost like being in the Army, but as a 10-year-old.

1990: Portrait of Martin (left) and Graham (right) Bell both of Great Britain. \ Mandatory Credit: Bob  Martin/Allsport
Portrait of brothers Martin (left) and Graham (right) Bell in 1990. Photo: Bob Martin/Allsport

If you came off the mountains and hadn’t dried your kit, gloves or boots properly, they would be wet the next day and you would have to endure press ups and short swings. It was a constant reminder to sort your equipment out.

I retired in 1998 before joining Ski Sunday in 2000. The programme has changed massively over the years since the late 70s. When I was ski racing, I was first featured in 1983 and the exposure was great. To have that programme, with David Vine presenting, for a fairly minority sport and its massive viewing figures was incredible.

The programme changed when two presenters, myself and Ed Leigh, could ski and snowboard. We had a cameraman who could ride off piste and that opened up a whole different area of the mountains. We weren't stuck at the end of the finish area like David was.

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We made the show like Top Gear on snow. Nowadays, if you have an idea you don’t need to wait for a TV production company and pitch. You go out there and start making it yourself. If you have inclination and dedication anything is possible.

Our features now on Ski Sunday try to show the accessibility and inclusivity of winter sports. It is for everybody and not just for the elite. The programme is being steered more towards that, and we look at sustainability.

Halti's gear is made of recycled materials that will not damage the environment. Photo: Halti
Graham Bell has partnered with the leading Finnish outdoor brand Halti. Halti's sports gear is made of recycled materials. Photo: Halti

People who ski really care about the environment, but finding a way to enjoy winter sports sustainably is the key right now.

A decade ago we filmed with Hans for Ski Sunday and he was happy that so many Scottish skiers came through his tutelage. Hillend has survived after a closure scare and it’s an important training base. It showed that Hans left a great legacy of producing good skiers.

Graham Bell has partnered with Finland’s leading outdoor brand Halti. He will be wearing products including the Huippi Re-down Jacket, reclaimed from post-consumer down blankets and cushions.

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